Richard S. Ellis

Professor, Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Adjunct Professor, Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies



Ph.D., New York University, 1972
M.S., New York University, 1971
B.A., Harvard University, 1969

Mailing Address:
    Department of Mathematics and Statistics
    Lederle Graduate Research Tower, Box 34515
    University of Massachusetts
    Amherst, MA 01003-4515
    USA
Office: Room 1428, Lederle Graduate Research Tower
Office Phone: 413-545-3125
Home Phone: 413-253-2492
Fax: 413-545-1801 (work), 413-253-0172 (home)
Email: rsellis_at_math_dot_umass_dot_edu
Additional Academic Appointment:
    Adjunct Professor, Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies
    University of Massachusetts Amherst
      See Section 7 for further information.

Publications, talks, and lecture notes in mathematics

Publications in Judaic studies, literature, and Buddhist studies

Teaching material for Stat 515H (Fall 2014)

Photograph by Ben Barnhart, computer graphics by Donna Meisse for UMass Magazine
This photograph accompanies the article
“Mediums of Vast Extent: A ‘Rare Intellectual Juggling Act.’”
This composite photograph shows on the right the opening verses
of the Hebrew Bible and on the left a formula from my 1997
mathematics book
superimposed on a passage from my novel.


A photograph in the garden of the Emily Dickinson Homestead
accompanies the article “The Poet and the Mathematician.” “As
a rule, mathematicians do not write scholarly critiques of poetry
and the Bible
: the exception to the rule, Professor Richard Ellis....”



Blinding Pain, Simple Truth, a Book About Self-Healing, Meditation, and the Bible. My book, titled Blinding Pain, Simple Truth: Changing Your Life Through Buddhist Meditation, describes how Buddhist teachings and daily meditation can empower readers to heal the suffering caused by physical and emotional pain. Click here to go to the website. The book was published in 2011 by Rainbow Books and is available at Amazon.com.



My 1985 Book Has Been Reprinted. My 1985 book, entitled Entropy, Large Deviations, and Statistical Mechanics, has been out of print for several years. In 2006 Springer-Verlag reprinted the book in the Classics in Mathematics series. The book can be ordered online.



Some Highlights

The Beginning of Wisdom.   Life as a miracle
My New Book.   Self-healing, meditation, and the Bible
My 1985 Book.   Its Importance
Book has been reprinted.   My 1985 book is reprinted in 2006
Award.   UMass Outstanding Faculty Award for Research
Grant.   Grant from the National Science Foundation
Paper.   Research article featured in Nonlinearity
Translations.   Two articles on Torah translated into Polish
Buddhist Teachings.   Meditation, emptiness, the four noble truths, . . .
Indra’s Net.   Teachings and digital image
Jewish Spirituality.   The path of blessing, emptiness, 1020 tovot, . . .
Gliding.   Gliding into an interview for SIAM News
Preserving Jewish Memory.   The Lithuania Project of my son Michael
Convergence.   Buddhism, Judaism, poetry, prose



Contents

Section 0.   The Beginning of Wisdom: Life as a Miracle

Section 1.   Research in Mathematics

Section 2.   Online Copies of Research in Mathematics

Section 3.   Other Mathematical Items

Section 4.   Teaching Material in Mathematics

Section 5.   My 1985 Book Is Reprinted in 2006

Section 6.   My Book About Self-Healing, Meditation, and the Bible

Section 7.   Judaic Studies and Literature

Section 8.   Translation into Polish of Two Articles on Torah

Section 9.   Activities in Jewish Affairs

Section 10.   Additional Writings

Section 11a.   Buddhist Spirituality

Section 11b.   Jewish Spirituality

Section 12.     Honors and Awards

Section 13.     Articles About My Work

Section 14.     Biographical Profiles

Section 15.     Preserving Jewish Memory in Lithuania

Section 16.     Convergence: Buddhism, Judaism, Poetry, Prose




Photograph by Carol Lollis for Amherst Bulletin
Both Kafka and I love this photograph taken in our book-lined cave.
Click to see an enlarged version. The photo accompanies the article
“Expecting the Unexpected: Deviations Common in Life of Math Professor.”



Chancellor John V. Lombardi presenting me with the Outstanding Faculty
Award for Research
in the College of Natural Sciences,
University of Massachusetts Amherst. Click to see an enlarged version.


Most of the artwork separating the sections is taken from The Heron Weekly, an email sent by Heron Dance Art Gallery and Publication.


Overwhelmed with inexorable, intoxicating gratitude.   Before he began, Alessandro leaned back in his chair and looked at the sky as if to take refreshment from the light. “When I came back from the war I had lost everything, but I was grateful nonetheless to be alive. Despite what I had seen, despite the destruction of all I had once taken for granted, despite the wounds I had sustained and my memory of men, far better than me, who were obliterated, I was overwhelmed with gratitude, inexorable, intoxicating gratitude.”
      Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War, page 743



0. The Beginning of Wisdom: Life as a Miracle




The Wonder of It All. To open yourself up to the multitudinous, eternally unfolding miracles within miracles within miracles of our blessed human existence, visit The Wonder of It All, a website put together by Ralph Marson. The poem used in this presentation is also available online. Here are the first three verses.
The Wonder of It All
by Ralph Marston

Do you ever wonder
At the wonder of it all?

Do you ever stand in awe
of the tiniest things
and how perfectly they work together?

Do you ever stop to think
about all the possibilities
and how even though they have no limit
they grow in number with every minute?
. . .

Connecting. Our world is permeated with noise and distraction. How shall we learn to connect, through the noise and distraction, to the source of all being? How shall we learn to open ourselves up to the multitudinous, eternally unfolding miracles within miracles within miracles of our blessed human existence? By cultivating silence, and in a mindspace of silence, by cultivating mindfulness. Buddhist meditation is one path. Another is the path of blessing.





Dawn After the Hurricane
Photograph by Bob Schwartz



1. Research in Mathematics

When Lawrence understood, it was as if the math teacher had suddenly played the good part of Bach’s Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor on a pipe organ the size of the Spiral Nebula in Andromeda — the part where Uncle Johann dissects the architecture of the Universe in one merciless descending ever-mutating chord, as if his foot is thrusting through skidding layers of garbage until it finally strikes bedrock.
      Neal Stephenson, Cryptonomicon, page 7
This is the kind of question Henry liked to put to himself when he was a schoolboy: what are the chances of this particular fish, from that shoal, off that continental shelf ending up in the pages, no, on this page of this copy of the Daily Mirror? Something just short of infinity to one. Similarly, the grains of sand on a beach, arranged just so. The random ordering of the world, the unimaginable odds against any particular condition, still please him. Even as a child, and especially after Aberfan, he never believed in fate or providence, or the future being made by someone in the sky. Instead, at every instant, a trillion trillion futures; the pickiness of pure chance and physical laws seemed like freedom from the scheming of a gloomy god.
      Ian McEwan, Saturday, pages 128–129


Contents of this section
        1.     Current Research
        2.     Equivalence and Nonequivalence of Ensembles
        3.     Beautiful Connections
        4.     The Generalized Canonical Ensemble and Universal Ensemble Equivalence
        5.     Statistical Mechanical Theories of Turbulence
        6.     Successes
        7.     National Science Foundation Grant
        8.     Lecture Notes and Survey Papers on Large Deviations and Applications
        9.     My 1997 Book Cowritten with Paul Dupuis
        10.   My 1985 Book and the Gärtner-Ellis Theorem
        11.   Importance of Work on the Linearized Boltzmann Equation



  1. Current Research.   My current research focuses on the theory of large deviations with applications to statistical mechanics.

  2. Equivalence and Nonequivalence of Ensembles.   My current research on applications of probability theory to statistical mechanics focuses on a problem that is fundamental to the entire subject. Which of the two basic probability distributions — the microcanonical ensemble or the canonical ensemble — is the appropriate choice for calculating equilibrium properties of statistical mechanical systems? Although it is widely assumed that the two ensembles give equivalent results in the thermodynamic limit or the continuum limit, my recent research shows that for general systems this is not the case. In fact, from the viewpoint of equilibrium macrostates, the microcanonical ensemble is in general richer and more basic than the canonical ensemble (see items (2) – (5) in the next paragraph). The basic theoretical results are derived in the paper “Large Deviation Principles and Complete Equivalence and Nonequivalence Results for Pure and Mixed Ensembles,” written with Kyle Haven and Bruce Turkington. The results have been applied to a model of geophysical fluid turbulence and to two spin systems, the mean-field Blume-Emery-Griffiths model and the Curie-Weiss-Potts model.


  3. Beautiful Connections: Equivalence and Nonequivalence of Ensembles, Solutions of Two Minimization Problems, and Concavity Properties of the Microcanonical Entropy.   A basic problem in the asymptotic analysis of the microcanonical and canonical ensembles is to understand the relationship between the sets E(u) and E(β) of microcanonical and canonical equilibrium macrostates; u and β denote fixed values of the mean energy and the inverse temperature. As we prove in our paper “Large Deviation Principles and Complete Equivalence and Nonequivalence Results for Pure and Mixed Ensembles,” the relationships between these sets are determined by concavity properties of the microcanonical entropy s(u). Here is a quick summary of the results in that paper. Click to read a leisurely overview of these results together with an application to spin systems.
            (1) Minimization problems. The elements of E(u) solve a constrained minimization problem, and the elements of E(β) solve a dual unconstrained minimization problem.
            (2) Canonical is always microcanonical. For fixed β each element of E(β) belongs to E(u) for some u.
            (3) Full equivalence. E(u) equals E(β) for some β if and only if s is strictly concave at u.
            (4) Partial equivalence. E(u) is a proper subset of E(β) for some β if and only if s is concave at u but not strictly concave.
            (5) Nonequivalence. E(u) is disjoint from E(β) for all β if and only if s is not concave at u.
    Because of items (2) – (5), we conclude that in general the microcanonical ensemble is richer and more basic than the canonical ensemble. The following are recommended.

  4. The Generalized Canonical Ensemble and Universal Ensemble Equivalence.   If the microcanonical ensemble is not equivalent with the canonical ensemble, then is it possible to replace the canonical ensemble with a generalized canonical ensemble that is fully equivalent with the microcanonial ensemble? This motivational question inspired our paper “The Generalized Canonical Ensemble and Its Universal Equivalence with the Microcanonical Ensemble.” The generalized canonical ensemble that we consider is obtained from the standard canonical ensemble by adding an exponential factor involving a continuous function g of the Hamiltonian. The main result in our paper is that the microcanonical and generalized canonical ensembles satisfy the same relationships as the microcanonical and standard canonical ensemble given in items (1)–(5) in the preceding paragraph with the microcanonical entropy s replaced by the generalized microcanonical entropy s–g . The considerable freedom that one has in choosing g has the important consequence that even when the microcanonical and standard canonical ensembles are not equivalent, one can often find g with the property that the microcanonical and generalized canonical ensembles satisfy a strong form of equivalence that we call universal equivalence. For example, if the microcanonical entropy is C2, then universal equivalence of ensembles holds with g taken from a class of quadratic functions. This use of functions g to obtain ensemble equivalence is a counterpart to the use of penalty functions and augmented Lagrangians in global optimization. An overview of the results in our paper is available online in a talk that I gave at the Technische Universität Berlin.

  5. Statistical Mechanical Theories of Turbulence.   Other recent research has focused on statistical mechanical theories of turbulence. A distinguishing feature of turbulence phenomena is that coherent structures are formed on large scales while random fluctuations are generated on small scales. A major goal of any statistical mechanical theory is to give a mathematical characterization of coherent structures and to predict their formation, interaction, and stability. Coherent structures are observed on all scales in nature. Examples are vortices and shears in fluid motion; the Great Red Spot of Jupiter, a hurricane-like storm system at least twice the diameter of Earth; Earth ocean waves such as tsunamis and waves on a beach; charge density waves in certain solid state materials; pulses in optical fibers; solitons; and smoke rings.


    Cassini at Jupiter: Red Spot Movie
    Credit: CICLOPS, NASA, JPL, University of Arizona

  6. Successes.   My coworkers and I have developed a body of mathematical techniques — based on the theory of large deviations and other methods — that settle many of the key questions arising in the statistical equilibrium theory of 2D fluid turbulence (governed by the 2D Euler equation), geostrophic turbulence (governed by the quasi-geostrophic potential vorticity equation), dispersive wave turbulence (governed by a class of nonlinear Schrödinger equations), and related areas. Future research will focus on nonequilibrium phenomena. A stunning application of our equilibrium techniques is the work of B. Turkington, A. Majda, K. Haven, and M. DiBattista (Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA, 98:12346–12350, 2001) on predicting the jetstreams and vortices in the Jovian atmosphere, the best known example of which is the Great Red Spot. Their paper is the first work in which the sophisticated statistical theories developed by myself and coworkers are synthesized with actual observational data from the Voyager and Galileo space missions.

  7. The National Science Foundation is funding my research project with Bruce Turkington during the period July 1, 2006 – June 30, 2010. Entitled “Equilibrium and Nonequilibrium Statistical Mechanics Applied to Reduced Descriptions of Complex Systems,” the interdisciplinary project addresses cross-cutting topics in analysis, modeling, and computation of stochastic systems.

  8. Lecture Notes and Survey Papers on Large Deviations and Applications.   The following lecture notes and papers of mine survey basic results in the theory of large deviations and then apply the theory to several problems in statistical mechanics.
  9. My 1997 Book Cowritten with Paul Dupuis.   Prior to my work on statistical theories of turbulence, I worked on large deviations for Markov processes with discontinuous statistics and applications to queueing theory. My 1997 book, cowritten with Paul Dupuis and entitled A Weak Convergence Approach to the Theory of Large Deviations, presents a new approach to large deviations that is well suited for such processes. The main theoretical contribution of the book is to show how one can replace the exponential estimates of standard large deviation approaches by law-of-large-numbers-type estimates, which are obtained by the theory of weak convergence. The book was published by John Wiley & Sons, from whom the book can be purchased online. A link to an online, pre-publication copy of our book is available. This online copy has no index and differs slightly from the published book.
            Along with coworkers I have applied the techniques of the book to study large deviation phenomena for small-noise diffusions with discontinuous drift, a random walk model with state-dependent noise that arises in the study of recursive algorithms, and a general class of queueing systems.
            Three reviews of my book are available online.



  10. The Importance of My 1985 Book and the Gärtner-Ellis Theorem.   My 1985 book, entitled Entropy, Large Deviations, and Statistical Mechanics and published by Springer-Verlag, is now a standard reference in the field. In the words of one author, the book is “the definitive and now classic reference on large deviations and statistical mechanics.” The book was reprinted by Springer-Verlag in 2006 in the Classics of Mathematics series.
            On pages 3 and 28 of his review article, “The Large Deviation Approach to Statistical Mechanics”, Physics Reports 478 (2009), 1–69, Hugo Touchette discusses the importance of my 1985 book, referred to here as Ellis [8].
    “These points have already been recognized and ‘publicized’ to some extent by a number of people, who see large deviation theory as the proper mathematical framework in which problems of statistical mechanics can be formulated and solved efficiently and, if need be, rigorously. Ellis [8] is to be credited for providing what is perhaps the most complete expression of this view, in a book that has played a major part in bringing large deviations into physics. ... The use of large deviation techniques for studying these systems has its roots in the work of Ruelle [53], Lanford [11], and especially Ellis [7,8,10]. Ellis [8] is the first that explicitly referred to the mathematical theory of large deviations, as developed by Donsker and Varadhan [2–5], among others.”
    The book features a large deviation theorem first proved by J. Gärtner and then generalized by me in the paper “Large Deviations for a General Class of Random Vectors,” Annals of Probability, 12:1–12 (1984). Now known as the Gärtner-Ellis theorem, it has been applied numerous times in the mathematical, statistical, physical, and engineering literature. For a comprehensive treatment of the theory of large deviations featuring applications and further generalizations, I recommend the monograph by A. Dembo and O. Zeitouni, Large Deviation Techniques and Applications, Second Edition, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1998. J. Gärtner's contribution to the Gärtner-Ellis Theorem and my contribution are discussed on page 68 of this monograph.

    Seven reviews of my book are available online.

  11. Importance of My Work with Mark Pinsky on the Linearized Boltzmann Equation.   In the mid-1970’s Mark Pinsky of Northwestern University and I collaborated on a project involving the linearized Boltzmann equation, the first extensive project of my career. In June 2003 Mark informed me about the important role that our joint work has played in the further progress of the subject; in particular, in the study of viscous conservation laws. The attached email from Mark contains the text of an email from Jeffrey Humpherys, who describes recent applications of our ideas and then writes the following: “I can go on and on, but I wanted you to know that your work with Ellis is very important.” Our work on this project resulted in three papers, two written jointly and one written by Mark alone. These companion papers derive limit theorems and asymptotics that relate the linearized Boltzmann equation with the linear Euler and Navier-Stokes equations.




Coming Home
The Heron Weekly #18



2. Online Copies of Research in Mathematics





Night Paddle
The Heron Weekly #41



3. Other Mathematical Items

  1. Featured Article in Nonlinearity. My article, “Nonequivalent Statistical Equilibrium Ensembles and Refined Stability Theorems for Most Probable Flows,” written with Kyle Haven and Bruce Turkington, was published in Nonlinearity 15:239-255 (2002). On February 27, 2002, we were informed that this “article has been selected for inclusion on the Journal Information Page as a Featured Article. . . . Featured Articles are chosen by the journal for their high quality and interest to readers.”

  2. Publication List. Click to see an annotated list of selected publications and my complete publication list.

  3. Curriculum Vitae. Click to see my complete curriculum vitae in mathematics and highlights of my curriculum vitae in mathematics, Judaic studies, and literature.

  4. Ph.D. Dissertations. Click to see a list of Ph.D. dissertations that I have directed.

  5. Comments by Students on Our Interactions.



Through a serendipitous large deviation, the next artwork
led to my being interviewed for an article in SIAM News.


Gliding
The Heron Weekly #21



4. Teaching Material in Mathematics





Flight Shadow
The Heron Weekly #26



5. My 1985 Book Is Reprinted in 2006. Will This End a Crime Wave in Paris?

On June 15, 2005 I was informed by Dr. Catriona M. Byrne that my 1985 book, entitled Entropy, Large Deviations, and Statistical Mechanics, would be republished by Springer-Verlag in the Classics in Mathematics series. Dr. Byrne is the Executive Director for Mathematics in Heidelberg, Germany. Here is a quotation from her letter.

“Your book Entropy, Large Deviations, and Statistical Mechanics (Grundlehren der Mathematischen Wissenschaften, Vol. 271), has been unavailable for some time. We are well aware of the significance of this book in the mathematical literature, even today, many years after its original publication, and would like to reprint it. . . . However, your book unquestionably belongs to the ‘modern classics’ of the field, and we know that there is a sizeable audience, in particular among the younger generation of mathematicians and mathematics students, who know of books like yours by reputation and would like to acquire them if they were available in a different price category.”
The book was reprinted in 2006, and it can be ordered online. The front matter is also available online. Here is a description of the Classics in Mathematics series in which the reprinted book appears. This appears on the back cover of the reprint along with two reviews.
        Springer-Verlag began publishing books in higher mathematics in 1920, when the series Grundlehren der mathematischen Wissenschaften, initially conceived as a series of advanced textbooks, was founded by Richard Courant. A few years later a new series Ergebnisse der Mathematik und ihrer Grenzgebiete, survey reports of recent mathematical research, was added.
        Of over 400 books published in these series, many have become recognized classics and remain standard references for their subject. Springer is reissuing a selected few of these highly successful books in a new, inexpensive softcover edition to make them easily accessible to younger generations of students and researchers.

An advertisement for both my book and the book Multidimensional Diffusion Processes by D. W. Stroock and S. R. S. Varadhan can be viewed online. It appears on page 60 in the Springer Mathematics Newsletter, 1/2006.

An interesting story related to the reprinting of my book unfolded with an email sent to me in August 2003 by Emily Tanimura in Paris concerning the book, which was then out of print. Emily wanted to purchase the book is now out of print, but was having difficulty locating a copy to buy. In her next email she made the following startling revelation concerning a crime wave that my out-of-print book had caused.

“Perhaps it is time for Springer to print more copies. There seems to be a great demand. In Paris the book has become something of a collector’s item. Indeed my previous copy was stolen and so were the copies of most of our university libraries.”

Emily then suggested that this larceny should persuade Springer to reprint the book.

“[I]t is probably rare to have written a book that has caused a crime wave in the academic community. Against this background perhaps Springer could be persuaded that reprinting the book is a civic duty.”

Emily’s experience with my book involved multiple losses. First her own copy was stolen. Then all the libraries from which she tried to borrow a copy reported that the book had been stolen. Finally, a copy that she had borrowed from someone else was stolen. However, Emily transcended the negativity of her predicament by writing a witty and insightful account of her experiences. I am grateful to her for contributing to my web page her honest, humorous analysis of the corruptibility of the human soul.

Another way of regarding Emily’s experiences is suggested by a review of a poetry book written by a person whose copy of the book had been stolen from a pub. The reviewer wrote the following. “I took it to a pub, had a beer or two too many, left without the book. Realised it was left two minutes later, went back, too late! Gone. I figure whoever nabbed it was also in need of the clarity, the crystal limning, the in-your-face reality.” Could the same be said of any of the people who nabbed Emily’s copies of Entropy, Large Deviations, and Statistical Mechanics and who stripped this book from the mathematical libraries of Paris?

Is my book unique in this respect? When I communicated Emily’s experiences to a representative of Springer-Verlag, I received the following reply.

“What you write about its disappearing from various mathematical libraries is interesting. Similar things have been reported rather often of other books on stochastic processes, diffusions, large deviations, stochastic calculus, optimal stopping, and so on, ever since the great surge of interest in mathematical finance of recent years.”




Self-Help-Self-Healing
Theater of Life: “the Mind is the Builder”



6. Blinding Pain, Simple Truth, a Book About Self-Healing, Meditation, and the Bible

In 2000 the blinding pain of incapacitating headaches nearly destroyed my career. The wisdom about pain, suffering, and healing that the headaches would reveal is the subject of my book, Blinding Pain, Simple Truth: Changing Your Life Through Buddhist Meditation. Click here to go to the website. The book was published in 2011 by Rainbow Books, an independent publisher founded in 1979. The book is available at Amazon.com.

The book describes how Buddhist teachings and daily meditation can empower readers to heal the suffering caused by physical and emotional pain. As the book shows, Buddhist teachings also provide a new lens for reading the Bible, yielding fresh insights into fundamental questions of birth and death, ego and enlightenment, sickness and health — insights that speak in surprisingly relevant ways to spiritual seekers and to those who want to heal themselves. My goal is to help people who suffer from physical or emotional pain. I would like to inspire them to reexamine their experiences with suffering and pain and eventually to embrace their lives with equanimity, gratitude, and joy.







Great Egret Blue
The Heron Weekly #22



7. Judaic Studies and Literature

  1. Adjunct Professor of Judaic Studies. Besides my regular academic appointment in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UMass, since 1998 I have been an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at UMass.

  2. Publication List. Click to see my publication list with online copies of publications. These publications include my book, Blinding Pain, Simple Truth: Changing Your Life Through Buddhist Meditation, published by Rainbow Books. The book describes how Buddhist teachings and daily meditation can empower readers to heal the suffering caused by physical and emotional pain. As the book shows, Buddhist teachings also provide a new lens for reading the Bible, yielding fresh insights into fundamental questions of birth and death, ego and enlightenment, sickness and health — insights that speak in surprisingly relevant ways to spiritual seekers and to those who want to heal themselves. My goal in writing the book is to help people who suffer from physical or emotional pain. I would like to inspire them to reexamine their experiences with suffering and pain and eventually to embrace their lives with equanimity, gratitude, and joy. Material from the book and a biographical sketch are available online.

    My publications also include essays on the Torah, the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Jewish-Christian relations, and the art of Michelangelo. Except for two essays that appeared in Conservative Judaism (see the next item), the online copies of my published articles are prepublication versions that do not necessarily coincide with the published versions of the essays. My essay on Jewish-Christian relations, entitled “A Jew in Rome: Christian Antisemitism and the Holocaust,” was published in Midstream in two parts. In January 2006 I received an email from a person in Argentina who identified himself as Christian and who had read the essay online, finding it extremely moving. In my response I wrote the following.
    “Those experiences seem so long ago. I have not thought much about the topics of that essay since publication five and a half years ago. In fact, my obsession with Christian anti-Semitism, Nazis, and the Holocaust, which started in my youth and energized those essays as well as a novel I was not able to publish, seems to have passed. They were part of an earlier phase of my life.”
    Here is a quotation from the person's reply.
    “You are a gifted writer. Please don't give up with your unpublished novel, or keep the pen going in some other similar project. Something happened deep inside when I read the essay. You are handling powerful stuff when you write!”
  3. Two Essays Published in Conservative Judaism. Publication versions of two essays that appeared in Conservative Judaism are available online. These essays are “The Book of Leviticus and the Fractal Geometry of Torah” and “Human Logic, God’s Logic, and the Akedah.” The online version of the essay, but not the published version, contains four images of the Mandelbrot set, each one based on a magnification of an area of the previous image. The Mandelbrot set is one of the best known examples of a fractal, which is a geometric object that displays self-similarity at multiple scales. The essay, “The Book of Leviticus and the Fractal Geometry of Torah,” appeared in the bibliography of the website Sacred Geometry Discovery — “Sacred Geometry is an art of memory which employs geometric forms as symbols, for the memory and organization of . . . divine wisdom.” — and was the vehicle that brought Willi Niemann and me together.

  4. Curriculum Vitae. Click to see highlights of my curriculum vitae in mathematics, Judaic studies, and literature.

  5. Annual Faculty Reports. Comments concerning my activities in Judaic Studies appear in two annual faculty reports. These comments can be viewed here.

  6. My Novel, Blessings from the Dead. Blessings from the Dead depicts the quest of a Jewish-American scientist for the truth about his mother, a woman he never knew. Rich in Jewish history, this is a novel about Jerusalem, the Holocaust, the pursuit of perfection, religious fanaticism, secrets, passion, and love. I am currently seeking a publisher for this novel. A synopsis of the novel and the first chapter of the novel are available online.

  7. Courses That I Have Taught. Click to see a list of courses that I have taught at the Jewish Community of Amherst, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the Springfield Jewish Community Center.

  8. Florence Melton Adult Mini-School. During the academic years 2001–2002, 2002–2003, and 2003–2004, I taught a course at the Springfield Jewish Community Center on Jewish texts. Entitled “The Purposes of Jewish Living,” the course is part of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School. The Mini-School is an international network of more than 60 community-based schools offering adults the opportunity to acquire Jewish literacy in an open, trans-denominational, intellectually stimulating learning environment. More than 260 faculty and 6000 students are involved in the program.
            When in April 2004 I announced my decision to stop teaching in the Mini-School, the director of the program, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, wrote the following in an email:
            “. . . I am sorry you will be leaving us. You have made a great impression on a lot of our students, and they will remember you fondly.”
            The 2002–2003 brochure for the Mini-School can be viewed here. Click to see the front side and the reverse side. A photo of me and a student appears in the upper right on the reverse side. In order to read the brochure, choose a larger text size in the browser and click on the icon that appears in the lower right corner of the screen.

  9. Poetry from My Youth. Poetry from my youth can be viewed here.

  10. Recent Poems. Three recent poems can be viewed here: “Moebius Strip” explores the relationships between a man, his son, and his dead father; “Breath” is a meditation on meditation; “Brewed in an Abbey Near Antwerp” is based on true events.




An image from the Mandelbrot set



8. Translation into Polish of Two Articles on Torah

The extraordinary sequence of events that began with an email from Dr. Willi Niemann shows why I maintain a web page. Willi is a physician and mathematician working in the fields of cancer and fractals in Poznan, Poland. In an email dated April 2, 2002, Willi asked me for permission to translate two of my articles into Polish and to post the translations on the web page of Bracia Polscy; in English Polish Brethren Unity. These articles are “The Book of Leviticus and the Fractal Geometry of Torah,” published in Conservative Judaism, and “Torah Talk: Terumah,” published in the Jewish Weekly News. In May 2003 my son and I visited Willi in Poznan, where I gave a talk at a Holocaust museum and two talks on the Torah.

Polish Brethren Unity, a Protestant Unitarian congregation, believes that “the Jews are a chosen people to be a light to the nations”; that “to understand Jesus’s teachings, one must understand first the messianic tradition of ancient Israel including Judaism in its beauty and depth”; that “only those who can approach the secret of Torah and its internal beauty have a chance to find the Presence of G-d, . . . to identify Jews as brothers and friends, and to appreciate their influence upon . . . Polish culture.” Willi felt that my articles would help facilitate a Polish-Jewish dialogue and would help reveal, at least in small measure, something of the “beauty of Hebrew theology and philosophy.” Concerning the contributions of Jews to Polish culture, he wrote that “we consider . . . Jews as our brothers in messianic hope and friends . . . [and] all Polish Jews as our fellows. . . . Polish culture flourished when you dwelled with us . . . [and] lost much you disappeared suddenly from our public life.”

When I asked Willi how he discovered my writings on the internet, he wrote the following.

“From time to time, I search Internet for scientific articles. As you may know, I am interested in fractal analysis. All of a sudden, I found your name associated with your article on fractals and Thora. That was very intriguing. I printed it out, read, and came to conclusion that the text is very spiritual, delicate, and expresses something more than just simple explanation of some biblical terms and ideas. I decided to write to you and ask for permission to translate it into Polish because there are very [few] biblical pages in Polish. And I thought that some people might enjoy reading about Thora in that way. Then I found the other articles of yours, visited your www page, found that our scientific interests have much in common.”




Loon Lake Arising
The Heron Weekly #51



9. Activities in Jewish Affairs





Climbing the Main Coast
Heron Dance email of August 7, 2003



10. Additional Writings





Songbird Landing
The Heron Weekly #17



11a. Buddhist Spirituality

Rabbi Rami Shapiro: The aim of meditation is “to observe the fundamental impermanence of self.”

Personal Note.   I have added this material to my web page in the hope that it will inspire people to explore Buddhist teachings and ultimately to benefit from them in the same profound way that I have. When translated into practice through mindfulness, these teachings can change your life. The Buddhism that inspires me is not a religion, but a psychological map of the mind and a path to equanimity and happiness.
        On page 3 of his book, A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack, David Loy isolates the problem and the solution.
In psychological terms, both [Western psychotherapeutics and Buddhism] emphasize that what passes for normality (samsara in Buddhism) is a low-grade of psychopathology, unnoticed only because so common; that the supposedly autonomous ego-self is conditioned in ways we are normally not aware of (karma, samskaras); and that greater awareness of our mental processes can free us (samadha, prajna).
As Kalu Rinpoche explains on page 25 of his book, Luminous Mind: The Way of the Buddha, the reward for understanding the open, empty nature of the mind is infinite.
        This ability to recognize the open, empty nature of mind and all its productions, projections, thoughts, and emotions is the panacea, the universal remedy that in and of itself cures all delusion, all negative emotion, and all suffering.
       Our mind can be compared to a hand that is bound or tied up, as much by the representation of our “me,” of the ego or self, as by the conceptions and fixations belonging to this idea. Little by little, Dharma practice eliminates these self-cherishing fixations and conceptions, and, just as an unbound hand can open, the mind opens and gains all kinds of possibilities for activity. It then discovers many qualities and skills, like the hand freed from its ties. The qualities that are slowly revealed are those of enlightenment, of pure mind.
The happy message is that we can become free. Arthur Koestler is much more pessimistic (quoted in Loy 1).
If one looks with a cold eye at the mess man has made of his history, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has been affected by some built-in mental disorder which drives him towards self-destruction.
In contrast to Buddhism and contemporary psychology, Koestler does not identify the problem as one that arises from failing to understand the nature of the mind and does not offer a solution.



Contents of this section
        1.     A Short Essay
        2.     A Poem
        3.     Buddhism and Western Psychology
        4.     The Practice and Fruits of Meditation
        5.     The Causal Law of Dependent Arising
        6.     Indra’s Net: Teachings
        7.     Indra’s Net: Digital Image
        8.     The Essential Mysteriousness of Our Being in the World
        9.     Emptiness
        10.   Three Marks of Existence
        11.   Kalu Rinpoche: “We live in illusion and the appearance of things.”
        12.   The Illusion of an Unchanging Separate Identity
        13.   Meditation and Transcending the “I”
        14.   The Buddha Calling the Earth To Be His Witness
        15.   The Buddha Under the Bodhi Tree and Salvation Mythology
        16.   The Dhammapada
        17.   The Four Noble Truths
        18.   There Are No Facts, Only Interpretations
        19.   Meditation, Medicine for the Soul



  1. A Short Essay.   My short essay entitled “Automatic Pilot and the Power of the Teaching” describes an obstacle that I encountered on the way to a meditation program.

  2. A Poem.   My poem “Breath” is a meditation on meditation.


  3. Buddhism and Western Psychology.   As Buddhism unfolds in our contemporary society, what is its relationship with Western psychology? Are there areas of overlap and influence?
            These questions were asked of Joseph Goldstein in an interview published in the Fall•Winter 2003/2004 issue of Insight Newsletter. Joseph Goldstein is one of the co-founders of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. Here is his answer.
            Both Western and Buddhist psychology offer profound insight into the mind. It is helpful to understand where the two paradigms overlap, where they complement each other, and where they diverge. We can see the relationship of the two approaches clearly in the arena of afflictive emotions. This term is one translation of the Pali word kilesa, which also translates as “defilement” or “torment of mind”. I prefer “afflictive emotions” because it points directly to those mind states that cause suffering, such as depression, fear, hatred, anger, jealousy and so on — it’s a long list!
            For example, if there’s envy or jealousy arising in the mind, the first step in both Buddhist practice and Western psychology is to recognize what is arising. The second step is cultivating an acceptance of the emotion. We explore what the emotion is and practice being with it without self judgment, without condemning the state itself. So, there is recognition and acceptance — key elements common to both traditions.
            Now we come to an important difference. Buddhist teachings point to the experience and realization of anatta, or selflessness. All experience is empty of self. Within the Western psychological framework, this may be an unusual concept, with greater emphasis usually given to building-up and reinforcing the sense of self.
            The third step in working with afflictive emotions, where the Dharma can offer a unique contribution, is practicing non-identification — not taking the emotion to be “I” or “mine”. This radical view needs careful guidance and instruction. It’s not a dissociative state of denial, nor is it an unconsciousness of deep feelings. Rather, it’s the full experience of the particular mind state, but without building a superstructure of self on top of it. Each emotion arises out of conditions and is simply expressing its own nature. The “I” and “mine” are extra.

  4. Practice and Fruits of Meditation.   On pages 47–48 of their book, Buddhism: A Concise Introduction, Huston Smith and Philip Novak discuss the practice and fruits of meditation.
            No teacher has credited the mind with more influence over life than the Buddha. The best loved of texts, the . . . Dhammapada, opens with the words: “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows unwholesome thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it. Joy follows wholesome thought like a shadow that never leaves.” And with respect to the future there is the saying: “Do you want to predict your future lives? Examine the condition of your present mind.”
            The Buddha counsels such continuous self-examination that it appears daunting, but he thought it necessary because he believed that liberation from unconscious, robotlike existence is achieved only by refined awareness. To this end he insisted that we seek to understand ourselves in depth, seeing everything in our mental and physical states as it really is. If we maintain a steady attention to our moods and thoughts, our actions and our body sensations, we perceive that they incessantly arise and disappear and are in no way permanent parts of us. Right mindfulness aims at witnessing all mental and physical events, including our emotions, without reacting to them, neither condemning some nor holding on to others.
            Through right-mindfulness practice, then, we arrive at a number of insights. We begin to see that:
            (1) every mental and physical state is in flux; none is solid or enduring;
            (2) habitual clinging to these impermanent states is at the root of much of life’s dukkha [unsatisfactoriness] and this very insight weakens the habit; and
            (3) we have little control over our mental states and our physical sensations, and normally little awareness of our reactions.
    Most important, we begin to realize that there is nobody behind the mental or physical events, orchestrating them. When the capacity for mindful attention is refined, it becomes apparent that consciousness itself is not continuous. Like the light from a lightbulb, the on/off is so rapid that consciousness seems to be steady, whereas in fact it is not. With these insights, the belief in a separate self-existent self begins to dissolve and freedom to dawn.

  5. The Causal Law of Dependent Arising, the Buddha’s Greatest Contribution.   The Buddha says,“One who sees dependent arising sees the Dhamma and one who sees the Dhamma sees dependent arising.” The Dhamma is the truth discovered by the Buddha.
            In a discussion of the scientific nature of Buddhism, Huston Smith and Philip Novak discuss what the Buddha considered to be his greatest contribution: the discovery of dependent arising. The following is quoted from page 29 of their book, Buddhism: A Concise Introduction.
    Not only did it [Buddhism] make the quality of lived experience its final test, it directed its attention to discovering natural cause-and-effect relationships that affected that experience. There is no effect without its cause, and no supernatural beings who interrupt the basic causal processes of the world. The Buddha himself considered his greatest contribution to be the discovery of a causal law — dependent arising — whose short version runs, “That being present, this becomes; that not being present, this does not become.”
    On page 201 of their book, Smith and Novak present the longer version of dependent arising in its traditional formulation, followed by additional commentary.
            The longer version of dependent arising is expressed as a set of twelve interlocking conditions (nidana): (1) Ignorance (of anatta [no-self] and the Four Noble Truths) occasions (2) dispositional tendencies, which occasion (3) consciousness, which occasions (4) name and form, which occasion (5) the six sense fields, which occasion (6) contact between our senses and external reality, which occasions (7) sensations in the body and mind, which occasion (8) the entire habit structure of want ing and not wanting, which occasion (9) clinging, which occasions (10) becoming, which occasions (11) rebirth, upon which necessarily follow (12) illness, decay, death, and all their related suffering. Eradicate ignorance, says the Buddha, and the conditions of our bondage begin to fall like dominoes.
            Using these twelve conditions to explain dependent arising, however, has been likened to using the collision of a few bowling balls to explain the interactions of subatomic particles. The matter is far subtler. The all-encompassing range of dependent arising is best caught in the shorter, though deceptively simple formulation just alluded to: “When this is, that is; this arising, that arises. When this is not, that is not; this ceasing, that ceases.” This latter formulation helps us to see that dependent arising pertains not only to the human personality, but to the whole of reality. All things and events depend for their existence on other things and/or events — which resembles field theory in physics and entails as its corollary that all things and events are empty-of-own-being (anatta).
    A profound statement of dependent arising appears in the following material, which appears on pages 46–48 of Anne Michael’s novel, The Winter Vault. The St. Lawrence Seaway is being built, submerging numerous towns, dislocating families, destroying homes, and severing the ties between the living and the dead. The body of Georgiana Foyle’s husband lies in a grave about to be submerged beneath the waters of the seaway.
    Georgiana Foyle, who until that very moment had prided herself on a lifetime of good manners, banged on the side of Avery’s Falcon with the flat of her hand. She began talking before he lowered his window.
            – But they can move your husband’s body, said Avery. The company will pay the expenses.
            She looked at him with astonishment. The thought seemed to silence her. Then she said:
            – If you move his body then you’ll have to move the hill. You’ll have to move the fields around him. You’ll have to move the view from the top of the hill and the trees he planted, one for each of our six children. You’ll have to move the sun because it sets among those trees. And move his mother and his father and his younger sister – she was the most admired girl in the county but all the men died in the first war, so she never married and was laid to rest next to her mother. They’re all company for one another and those graves are old, so you’ll have to move the earth with them to make sure nothing of anyone is left behind. Can you promise me that? Do you know what it means to miss a man for twenty years? You think about death the way a young man thinks about death. You’d have to move my promise to him that I’d keep coming to his grave to describe that very place as I used to when we were first married and he hurt his back and had to stay in bed for three months – every night I described the view from the hill above the farm and it was a bit of sweetness – for forty years – between us. Can you move that promise? Can you move what was consecrated? Can you move that exact empty place in the earth I was to lie next to him for eternity? It’s the loneliness of eternity I’m talking about! Can you move all those things?
            Georgiana Foyle looked at Avery with disgust and despair. Her skin, like paper that had been crumpled and smoothed out again, was awash with tears in the mesh of lines, her whole face shone wet. She was so sinewy and light, her heavy cotton dress seemed to hover without touching her skin.
            Avery longed to reach out his hand, but he was afraid; he had no right to comfort her.
            The old woman leaned against the car and wept unashamedly into her arms, her long, thin bones now standing out against her sleeves.

  6. Indra’s Net: Teachings.   On page 61 of their book, Buddhism: A Concise Introduction, Huston Smith and Philip Novak explain dependent arising via the image of Indra’s Net, a cosmic web laced with jewels at every intersection. Concerning the implications of this image, I recommend the essay “Indra’s Postmodern Net,” a wide-reaching and profound investigation by the philosopher David Loy.
    The crux of the Buddha’s awakening was the discovery of dependent arising: every thing and every process arises in dependence upon countless other things and processes. This is the physicists’ field theory incarnate. Nothing exists on its own. Buddhists often convey this insight with the image of Indra’s Net, a cosmic web laced with jewels at every intersection. Each jewel reflects the others, together with all the reflections in the others. In the deepest analysis, each “jewel” is but the reflection of the other reflections. Likewise, every thing and every person in the world, like every jewel in Indra’s Net, because dependently arisen, is empty-of-own-being (lacking in self-existence). Empty-of-own-being is the wider meaning of anatta, applicable to the animate and inanimate world alike and less confusing than saying that “things” lack “selves.”
    The traditional description of Indra’s Net is given in the Flower Garland (Avatamsaka) Sutra. The following translation is by Francis H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra (University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977), p.2.
    Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net that has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each “eye” of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in all dimensions, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.
    According to Francis H. Cook, Indra’s Net “symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos.” Because the totality is a vast body of members each sustaining and defining all the others, “the cosmos is, in short, a self-creating, self-maintaining, and self-defining organism.” It is also non-teleological: “There is no theory of a beginning time, no concept of a creator, no question of the purpose of it all. The universe is taken as a given.” Such a universe has no hierarchy: “There is no center, or, perhaps if there is one, it is everywhere.”

  7. Indra’s Net: Digital Image.   I thank Gail Atkins for allowing me to post her digital image of Indra’s Net. It is interesting to compare this image with Indra’s Net II, a computer model of the early universe in which gravity arranges matter in thin filaments.


    Indra’s Net
    Copyright © Gail Atkins

    In an email granting me permission to post her digital image of Indra’s Net on my web page, Gail Atkins made the following observation.
    “I have spent some time reading and viewing your website which shows the relatedness of mathematics, science, creativity, and both Eastern and Western philosophies.   . . . I believe that it is from the conversation among them that our greater understanding of reality will come.”

  8. The Essential Mysteriousness of Our Being in the World.   In a discussion of the role of theory in Buddhism, David Loy writes the following. “The ultimate reason why there can be no ultimate theory that represents the whole is because we can never stand outside the world to re-present it objectively.” This echoes the insight of Emily Dickinson: “our entrance here being an Exclusion from comprehension” (Prose Fragment 70).
    Death being the first form of Life which we have had the power to Contemplate, our entrance here being an Exclusion from comprehension, it is amazing that the fascination of our predicament does not entice us more. With such sentences as these over our Heads we are as exempt from Exultation as the Stones —
    Here is the entire quotation by David Loy, taken from pages 26–27 of his book, The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory.
    Buddhist theory forms part of its own object domain, not only because it is a self-reflexive belief about beliefs, but because it is itself an expression of the ungraspable ground that it theorizes about. The ultimate reason why there can be no ultimate theory that represents the whole is because we can never stand outside the world to re-present it objectively. The part can never grasp or contain the whole; nor does it need to. Our concepts are not only part of the world, they are manifestations of it. Buddhist awakening does not grasp or otherwise resolve the essential mysteriousness of our being in the world. It opens us up to that mystery, a mystery that is an essential aspect of the meaning of “sacred.” In practice, this means that the broadest context for all our intel1ectual efforts is a wonder in the face of a world that always exceeds our ideas about it. That excess does not signify any defect in our understanding. Rather, it is the source of our understanding, allowing for a perpetual bubbling-up of insights and images — when we do not cling to the ones that we have already become comfortable with.
    His comment that “the broadest context for all our intel1ectual efforts is a wonder in the face of a world that always exceeds our ideas about it” resonates deeply with me.

  9. Emptiness.   The following explanation appears on a web site devoted to the Buddhist teaching of sunyata, or the emptiness of things.
    [T]he Kadampa school of Buddhist philosophy claims that all things are totally empty of any defining essence. Consequently all things have no fixed identity (“inherent existence”) and are in a state of impermanence — change and flux — constantly becoming and decaying. Not only are all things constantly changing, but if we analyse any phenomenon in enough detail we come to the conclusion that it is ultimately unfindable, and exists purely by definitions in terms of other things — and one of those other things is always the mind which generates those definitions.
    David Loy points out that “the English word ‘emptiness’ has a more nihilistic connotation than the original Sanskrit sunyata. The Sanskrit root su conveys the concept of being swollen with possibility [LOY 1996].” This observation is made in the context of a discussion of the empty set, the origins of mathematics, and the Buddhist concept of sunyata or emptiness. Additional material on Buddhism and scientific rationalism and on modern Buddhism, philosophy, mathematics, and science is available.


  10. Three Marks of Existence. To see the world in its true nature is to see the three marks of existence inherent within all things. The three marks are impermanence or anicca, suffering or dukkha, and no-self or anatta. As the on-line encyclopedia the MYSTICA points out, although each of the three marks of existence is itself a topic of meditation, they are conceptually interrelated. There is no-self because there is impermanence, and because there is impermanence, there is suffering. The generalized sense of anxiety that pervades our lives is grounded in the failure to understand the three marks of existence.
    If we examine the notion of impermanence closely and honestly, we see that it is all-pervading, [that] everything is marked by impermanence. We might posit an eternal consciousness principle, or higher self, but if we examine our consciousness closely we see that it is made up of temporary mental processes and events. We see that our “higher self” is speculative at best and imaginary to begin with. We have invented the idea to secure ourselves, to cement our relationship, once again. Because of this we feel uneasy and anxious, even at the best of times. It is only when we completely abandon clinging that we feel any relief from our queasiness.
    Our bodies are impermanent. Our lives are impermanent. We will all die. Through the awareness of death, we grow in wisdom. But as Reginald A. Ray asks on page 246 of his book, Indestructible Truth: The Living Spirituality of Tibetan Buddhism, “how can we know this not just intellectually — which has very little impact — but in our bones? Tulku Urgyen suggests that we contemplate the following analogy from Padmasambhava’s Karling Shitro.”
    Imagine that you are standing on a half-inch-wide ledge on a sheer cliff overlooking an almost bottomless abyss, with a roaring river raging below. You cannot bear to look down. Only your toes rest on the ledge, while your hands grasp two handfuls of grass the size of a goat’s beard. You are hanging onto these two handfuls of scrub-grass that represents your life span and life force. At the same time, impermanence, in the form of two rats . . . gnaws away at the grass you are clinging to, piece by piece. Once the grass is consumed, there will be nothing left to hold onto. There is only one way to go: to plunge into the nearly bottomless abyss and the raging river.   . . .   So you hang on while the rats eat up the grass, blade by blade. You have no chance of survival whatsoever. This is our current situation.
    As Rabbi Rami Shapiro writes on page 137 of his book, The Way of Solomon: Finding Joy and Contentment in the Wisdom of Ecclesiastes, the aim of meditation is “to observe the fundamental impermanence of self.”

  11. Kalu Rinpoche: “We live in illusion and the appearance of things.”   In my favorite Buddhist poem Kalu Rinpoche distills the essence of the Buddhist teaching of emptiness.
    We live in illusion
    And the appearance of things.
    There is a reality.
    We are that reality.
    When you understand this,
    You see that you are nothing.
    And being nothing,
    You are everything.
    That is all.
    On page 8 of his book, A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack, David Loy provides a commentary on Kalu Rinpoche’s poem.
    This process [of liberating awareness through meditation] implies that what we fear as nothingness is not really nothingness, for that is the perspective of a sense-of-self anxious about losing its grip on itself. According to Buddhism, letting go of myself into that no-thing-ness leads to something else: when consciousness stops trying to catch its own tail, I become no-thing, and discover that I am everything — or, more precisely, that I can be anything. With that conflation, the no-thing at my core is transformed from a sense of lack into a serenity that is imperturbable because there is nothing to be perturbed.

    “I, too, turn quiet and transparent”
    The Heron Weekly #50

  12. The Illusion of an Unchanging Separate Identity.   The Buddha taught that suffering arises “through the misapprehension of grasping an unchanging identity which is at variance with the way things really are. . . . The principal dimension of this misapprehension is reifying ourselves into Selves, the feeling that somehow I must have an unchanging core which is the ‘Real Me’.” This quotation is taken from a cogent explanation of the Buddha’s teaching on the illusion of an unchanging separate identity. This teaching is closely related to the Buddhist understanding of the emptiness of the ego or anatta.
            Albert Einstein understood this. A rabbi wrote to Einstein, explaining that he had sought in vain to comfort his 19-year-old daughter over the death of her sister, “a sinless, beautiful, 16-year old child.” Here is Einstein’s reply.
    A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.

  13. Meditation and Transcending the “I.”   David Loy devotes his book, Lack and Transcendence: The Problem of Death and Life in Psychotherapy, Existentialism, and Buddhism, to investigating what he conjectures is the primal human repression (p. xi).
    If our sense of self as something autonomous and self-grounded is a fiction, if the ego is in fact mentally constructed and socially internalized, then perhaps our primal repression is not sexual wishes (as Freud thought) nor the fear of death (as many existential psychologists think) but the quite valid suspicion that “I” am not real.
    As David Loy explains on pages 7–8 of his book, A Buddhist History of the West: Studies in Lack, meditation is a path for transcending the sense of self. The second paragraph is also quoted in item 9.
            “Forgetting” ourselves is how we lose our sense of separation and realize that we are not other than the world. Meditation is learning how to become nothing by learning to forget the sense-of-self, which happens when I become absorbed into my meditation exercise. If the sense-of self is an effect of self-reflection — of consciousness attempting to grasp itself — such meditation practice makes sense as an exercise in de-reflection. Consciousness unlearns trying to grasp itself, real-ize itself, objectify itself. Liberating awareness occurs when the usually automatized reflexivity of consciousness ceases, which is experienced as a letting go and falling into the void. “Men are afraid to forget their minds, fearing to fall through the Void with nothing to stay their fall. They do not know that the Void is not really void, but the realm of the real dharma” (Huang-po 41). Then, when I no longer strive to make myself real through things, I find myself “actualized” by them, says Dogen.
            This process implies that what we fear as nothingness is not really nothingness, for that is the perspective of a sense-of-self anxious about losing its grip on itself. According to Buddhism, letting go of myself into that no-thing-ness leads to something else: when consciousness stops trying to catch its own tail, I become no-thing, and discover that I am everything — or, more precisely, that I can be anything. With that conflation, the no-thing at my core is transformed from a sense-of-lack into a serenity that is imperturbable because there is nothing to be perturbed.

  14. The Buddha Calling the Earth To Be His Witness. During the night before his enlightenment, the Buddha was challenged by Mara, the Evil One and Buddha’s shadow-self, the lord of misfortune, sin, destruction, and death. Mara challenged the Buddha to produce witnesses to validate the Buddha’s claim that he had performed compassionate deeds. The following commentary on the Buddha’s answer appears on page 92 of Karen Armstrong‘s book, Buddha.
    But Gotama was alone; he had no human being or god on his side who could act as his witness to his long preparation for enlightenment. He therefore did something that no cakkavatti [World Ruler such as Mara] would ever do: he asked for help. Reaching out with his right hand to touch the ground, he begged the earth to testify to his past acts of compassion. With a shattering roar, the earth replied: “I bear you witness!” In terror, Mara’s elephant fell to its knees and his soldiers deserted, running in fear in all directions. The earth-witnessing posture, which shows the Buddha sitting in the cross-legged asana position, touching the ground with his right hand, is a favorite icon in Buddhist art. It not only symbolizes Gotama’s rejection of Mara’s sterile machismo, but makes the profound point that a Buddha does indeed belong to the world. The Dhamma is exacting, but it is not against nature. There is a deep affinity between the earth and the selfless human being, something that Gotama had sensed when he recalled his trance under the rose-apple tree. The man or woman who seeks enlightenment is in tune with the fundamental structure of the universe. Even though the world seems to be ruled by the violence of Mara and his army, it is the compassionate Buddha who is most truly in tune with the basic laws of existence.

    Buddha Calling the Earth To Be His Witness

  15. The Buddha Under the Bodhi Tree and Salvation Mythology.   The Buddha attained enlightenment while meditating under the bodhi tree, vowing “not [to] move from this spot until I have attained the supreme and final wisdom.” The following commentary on the mythological aspects of the Buddha’s quest appears on pages 89–90 of Karen Armstrong’s book, Buddha.
    The text emphasizes the fantastic shuddering of the earth as Gotama circled the bodhi tree to remind us not to read this story literally. This is not a physical location: world-tree, standing at the axis of the cosmos, is a common feature of salvation mythology. It is the place where the divine energies pour into the world, where humanity encounters the Absolute and becomes more fully itself. We need only recall the cross of Jesus, which, according to Christian legend, stood on the same spot as the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden. But in Buddhist myth, Gotama the man sits in this pivotal place, not a man-God, because human beings must save themselves without supernatural aid. The texts make it clear that Gotama had come to this axis of the universe, the mythological center that holds the whole of the cosmos together. The “immovable spot” is that psychological state which enables us to see the world and ourselves in perfect balance. Without this psychological stability and this correct orientation, enlightenment is impossible: that is why all the Buddhas had to sit in this place — or achieve this state of mind — before they were able to attain Nibbana. It is the Axis Mundi, the still point of calm where human beings, in many world myths, encounter the Real and the Unconditioned: it is the “place” where things that seem diametrically opposed in the profane world come together in that coincidentia oppositorum that constitutes an experience of the Sacred. Life and death, emptiness and plenitude, physical and spiritual merge and conjoin, like the spokes of a wheel at its hub, in a way that is unimaginable to normal consciousness. When Gotama had reached the state of perfect equilibrium that he had glimpsed as a child under the rose-apple tree, when his faculties were concentrated and his egotism under control, he was, he believed, ready to sit in the ‘immovable spot.’ He was at last in a position to receive the supreme insight.”

  16. The Dhammapada.   The wisdom and compassion of the opening verses of the Dhammapada touch me deeply. Verse 1: “Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.” Verse 5: “For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can.” The following is taken from a website devoted to the Dhammapada.
    The Dhammapada consists of 423 verses in Pali uttered by the Buddha on some 305 occasions for the benefit of a wide range of human beings. These sayings were selected and compiled into one book as being worthy of special note on account of their beauty and relevance for moulding the lives of future generations of Buddhists. They are divided into 26 chapters and the stanzas are arranged according to subject matter.
    According to Eknath Easwaran, if all of the Buddhist sutras had been lost except the Dhammapada, it alone would be enough for readers to understand and appreciate the wisdom of the Buddha. Here are the opening six verses of the Dhammapada as translated by Eknath Easwaran.
    1. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Suffering follows an evil thought as the wheels of a cart follow the oxen that draw it.
    2. Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.
    3. “He was angry with me, he attacked me, he defeated me, he robbed me” — those who dwell on such thoughts will never be free from hatred.
    4. “He was angry with me, he attacked me, he defeated me, he robbed me” — those who do not dwell on such thoughts will surely become free from hatred.
    5. For hatred can never put an end to hatred; love alone can. This is an unalterable law.
    6. People forget that their lives will end soon. For those who remember, quarrels come to an end.



  17. The Four Noble Truths.   The Four Noble Truths are the core teaching of Buddhism, the fecund seed from which the vast orchard of the Buddha’s wisdom flowers. As Amaro Bhikkhu writes in the introduction to Food for the Heart: The Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah, p. 23, “[t]his teaching is common to all Buddhist traditions, and just as an acorn contains within it the genetic coding for what eventually takes shape as a vast oak, so too all the myriad Buddhist teachings can be said to derive from this essential matrix of insight.” The Buddha enunciated the Four Noble Truths in a discourse given at the Deer Park at Sarnath, his first discourse after his meditation under the Bodhi tree that culminated in his enlightenment. The Four Noble Truths are the truths of suffering, the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the way leading to the cessation of suffering. As the Fourth Noble Truth explains, the way leading to the cessation of suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path. In the whimsical translation by Gary Gach and Michael Wenger, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Understanding Buddhism, p. 80, of a passage from the Buddha’s The Flower Garland Sutra, “. . . . the Four Noble truths have four quadrillion names or meanings that are understood by sentient beings according to their tendencies. This great plethora of meaning shows all sentient beings how to gain control of their minds.”

    Here are an introduction and the Four Noble Truths in the translation by Venerable Ajahn Sumedho, The Four Noble Truths (Hertfordshire, England: Amaravati Publications, 1992).

  18. There Are No Facts, Only Interpretations.   When Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “There are no facts, only interpretations,” he was articulating what the Buddha had discovered 2500 years ago.

  19. Meditation, Medicine for the Souls.   I found the following quote on a post near Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna in July 2004. The original German is followed by a translation.
    Meditation, MEDIZIN für die Seele. Nur das begrenzte Ich, das Ego, leidet. Das unbegrenzte Ich, das in der Stille der Meditation erfahren wird, is voll Gelassenheit, Freude, und Liebe.
    Meditation, MEDICINE for the soul. Only the constricted I, the ego, suffers. The unconstricted I, which is experienced in the stillness of meditation, is full of composure, joy, and love.




Traditional Buddha



11b. Jewish Spirituality



Contents of this section
        1.   The Path of Blessing by Rabbi Marcia Prager
        2.   Emptiness! Emptiness upon Emptiness!
        3.   Breath Is a Verb Is the Holy Name of God is YHWH
        4.   We Are Waves of the Divine
        5.   The Largest Number in the Jewish Liturgy.
        6.   The Paradox of Blessing and Language



  1. The Path of Blessing by Rabbi Marcia Prager.   Her book, entitled the PATH of BLESSING: Experiencing the Energy and Abundance of the Divine, is a profound meditation on Jewish prayer. She opens with two questions (page 11).
    If every aspect of our existence is an opportunity to experience God, how shall we live when we discover that God permeates all, from the galactic to the microscopic? How shall we respond — personally, as a society, as a species — when we begin to understand not only our lives but all existence as a sacred gift?
    Rabbi Prager’s book is an answer to these questions. The following is quoted from pages 12 and 13.
            The Hebrew word for blessing is . . . brakha . . . .   The Jewish practice of blessing derives from our tradition’s desire to promote joy and appreciation, wonder and thankfulness, amazement and praise. A brakha is, we might say, a kind of “gratitude yoga” we can employ not only day to day but moment to moment. It is in itself not at all strenuous.   . . . [I]t doesn't require that we have any accoutrements or a special mantra or that we become a yogi, an adept, a tzaddik, or a buddha. It merely asks us to engage in a moment of delayed gratification, using the respite as an opportunity for something else to occur.
            . . . [I]n making a brakha we separate out time before we consume, use, or enjoy something of the world in order to create a space where something other than thoughtless appropriation can unfold. As we grow in the path of blessing, we open to a more expansive way of being. Through blessing, we uncover the infinitely abundant Presence of God in even the smallest action.
            Jewish tradition teaches that the simple action of a brakha has a cosmic effect, for a brakha causes shefa, the “abundant flow” of God’s love and goodness, to pour into the world.
    As Rabbi Prager explains on pages 31 and 32, one approaches the act of prayer as one approaches the act of meditation, in silence and mindfully, hoping to be released from “all blemishes of ego restricting our awareness.”
            We begin in the silence that precedes any sound or movement. Jewish tradition asks that we not say a brakha until we have quieted the mind and focused our attention on the blessing’s purpose. “One should not toss a brakha from one’s mouth,” instructs the Talmud. The eleventh-century commentator Rashi adds: “A brakha should be said slowly and deliberately. Don‘t rush through as if you are carrying a heavy burden and cannot wait to be free of it!” In quiet attentiveness we focus attention and allow an opening for mindfulness.
            . . . When we quiet the mind and prepare to offer our brakha with kavvanah [focused intention], we experience an inner shift redirecting our soul toward God. We are able to gently release anxieties, feeling gratitude for the gift of this moment and the holy sparks it contains. We may wish to ask for an easing of all blemishes of ego restricting our awareness in order to deepen our praise and allow any lingering alienation and separateness to disappear.

  2. Emptiness! Emptiness upon Emptiness!   In his book, The Way of Solomon: Finding Joy and Contentment in the Wisdom of Ecclesiastes, Rabbi Rami Shapiro offers a Buddhist reading of the Book of Ecclesiastes. This is apparent in the second verse, which in the King James Bible is translated as “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all [is] vanity” and in the JPS Hebrew–English Tanakh as “Utter futility! — said Koheleth — Utter futility! All is futile!” Instead Rabbi Shapiro offers the following translation, substituting the Buddhist term “emptiness” in place of “vanity” or “futility.” In this context emptiness conveys, not a meaningless void, but a dynamic, interconnected web of significance devoid of any defining essence and therefore pregnant with possibility.
    Emptiness! Emptiness upon emptiness!
    The world is fleeting of form,
    empty of permanence,
    void of surety,
    without certainty.
    Like a breath breathed once and gone,
    all things rise and fall.
    Undertand emptiness, and tranquillity replaces anxiety.
    Understand emptiness, and compassion replaces jealousy.
    Understand emptiness, and you will ceast to excuse suffering,
    and begin to alleviate it.
    In the original Hebrew the fecund, pregnant-with-possibilities phrase that yields this orchard of interpretations is havel havalim hakol havel; literally, “breath of breaths, everything is breath.” Through the lens of Rabbi Shapiro’s reading, we begin to understand the deep message of this verse. There is nothing to hold onto. All that we have is the breath. Like the breath everything is impermanent, everything is empty, everything exhibits non-self. Breath is a verb is the holy name of God is YHWH. The breath comes. The breath goes. I am being breathed. The translation by Everett Fox of Genesis 2:7:
    And YHWH, God, formed the human, of dust from the soil,
    he blew into his nostrils the breath of life
    and the human became a living being.


    Osprey River Notes
    The Heron Weekly #34


  3. Breath Is a Verb Is the Holy Name of God is YHWH.   The title of this section is inspired by Rabbi Arthur Green’s Buddhisticly Jewish exegesis of YHWH, the unspeakable name of God. Rendered in English as Yahweh or Jehovah, in Hebrew YHWH expresses the mysteries of creation and being and becoming. “. . . [A]ll the letters that make up this name served in ancient Hebrew interchangeably as consonants and as vowels. Really they are mere vowels, mere breath. There is nothing hard or defined in their sound. The name of that which is most eternal and unchanging in the universe is also that which is wiped away as readily as a passing breath.”
            Rabbi Green’s exegesis, which I quote in full because of its beauty and depth, is a chapter in his book, Seek My Face, Speak My Name: A Contemporary Jewish Theology, pages 18–20.
    GOD AS Y–H–W–H:
    ISWASWILL BE IS ONE!

            I further betray my faith by the use of the English word “God,” rooted as it is in old Germanic paganism. I struggle with ways to replace this term in English but come up empty-handed. By “God,” of course, I mean Y–H–W–H, the One of all being. This name of God is the starting point of all Jewish theology. It is to be read as an impossible construction of the verb “to be.” HaYaH — that which was — HoWeH — that which is — and YiHYeH — that which will be — are here all forced together in a grammatically impossible conflation. Y–H–W–H is a verb that has been artificially arrested in motion and made to function as a noun. As soon as you try to grab hold of such a noun, it runs away from you and becomes a verb again. “Thought does not grasp you at all,” as the wise have always known. Y–H–W–H as noun can be the bearer of predicates, but those too become elusive as soon as the verbal quality of the divine name reasserts itself. Try to say anything definitional about Y–H–W–H and it dashes off and becomes a verb again. This elusiveness is underscored by the fact that all the letters that make up this name served in ancient Hebrew interchangeably as consonants and as vowels. Really they are mere vowels, mere breath. There is nothing hard or defined in their sound. The name of that which is most eternal and unchanging in the universe is also that which is wiped away as readily as a passing breath.
            Here we see how inadequate a translation “God” is for Y–H–W–H. If I look for another English rendition of it, I would probably come up with “is–was–will be.” Since that is awkward to use (as in “Blessed are You, Is–Was–Will Be”), I am attracted to its abstraction in the term “Being.” That is probably as close as English or other Western languages will allow us to get. But the identification of God and Being, with which I am partially sympathetic, has to be handled with some caution. “Being” is itself an abstraction, a concept; it does not represent the same flow of energy as “is-was-will be.” “Being” is static; it includes no movement. Y–H–W–H is movement and stasis at once. If Y–H–W–H includes all that is, was, or will be, bearing within it past and future existence as well as present, it includes that which by definition does not currently exist. For Y–H–W–H to translate as “Being,” that term would have to embrace at once all the “was” and “will be” along with the “is,” which is to say a dynamic transcendence of time.
            To express it differently, God is both being and becoming, noun and verb, stasis and process. All of being is One in a single simultaneity in God, and yet God is at the same time process without end. Here we are back to our starting point: Y–H–W–H as Sh’ma Yisra’el is stasis, the great transcendent oneness; Y–H–W–H as Barukh Shem is process, the one within the everchanging many. God evolves as life in the universe and on the planet evolves. The divine force that resides in the molecular structure of beings, or in DNA as well as in the stars and sky continues to grow and change along each step of the evolutionary ladder. But that same Y–H–W–H is also the eternal and unchanging One. We may depict divinity on the one hand as a configuration of spiritual molecules involved in a process of constant change, ever rearranging themselves like a cosmic kaleidoscope. But that same deity is also the great ocean in which these ripples of change mean nothing at all, and which one day will be still again.
    Later in his book Rabbi Green asks whether “language can . . . transcend itself and serve as a vehicle for articulating states of consciousness and levels of reality that seem beyond its ken.” As the word Y–H–W–H shows, the answer is yes (p. 135).
    The claim that divinity can enter human language, or that the indescribable One of Being, utterly beyond words and language, can enter into human speech through the agency of the word Y–H–W–H, is both to elevate human language itself to a new level of respect and to make tremendous demands upon it. It grants that language can, after all, transcend itself and serve as a vehicle for articulating states of consciousness and levels of reality that seem beyond its ken. The word Y–H–W–H is here seen as a token of the promise that language can be reborn in symbolic form, ready to embody heights and depths unknown to its prior ordinary discursive state.

  4. We Are Waves of the Divine.   On page 6 of his book, The Way of Solomon: Finding Joy and Contentment in the Wisdom of Ecclesiastes, Rabbi Rami Shapiro comments on our illusion of separateness from each other and God.
    We are the waves of the Divine, of the Infinite, of God. We are God in temporary extension. The extent to which we insist on being other, being permanent and separate from each other and God, is the extent to which we are sad, depressed, anxious, lost, and joyless. The extent to which we see the fundamental emptiness of this illusion and awake to the essential unity of all things in, with, and as God is the extent to which we are alive, vibrant, energized, purposeful, and filled with holy joy.
    Prayer is a bridge between ourselves and the infinite.

  5. The Largest Number in the Jewish Liturgy   This number is 1020 (1 followed by 20 zeroes), and it appears in the prayer Nishmat kol chai, meaning “the soul of every living being.” The first line of this prayer uses two words, neshamah and ruach, that are usually translated as “soul” or “spirit” but were originally terms for the breath. “The soul of every living being praises You, Lord our God; the spirit of all mortals glorifies and exalts You always, our King” (Kol Haneshamah: Shabbat Vehagim, Wyncote, PA: The Reconstructionist Press, 1994, p. 234). After pointing out that “Literally, then, this prayer asserts that the breath of all living creatures proclaims God's blessings” (p. 235), an explanation is given of what this might mean. The explanation by Rabbi Everett Gendler is a focal point of Jewish and Buddhist spirituality.
    Breath is the prerequisite of life and speech, of existence and communication, and it is a gift requiring no conscious attention except in cases of illness. If each inhalation required a direct order, each exhalation a conscious command, how should we find energy or attention for anything else? How should we sleep? In truth, we do not breathe; we are breathed. At this moment of my writing, at this moment of your reading, at succeeding moments of our praying, breath enters and leaves our lungs without our conscious intervention. Truly we are breathed.
    The prayer Nishmat kol chai reaches a crescendo in the following line, lavish metaphor stacked on lavish metaphor exploding in the realization of the 1020 tovot or favors or goodnesses that God performed for our ancestors and for us (The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, pp. 401–402).
    Were our mouth as full of song as the sea, and our tongue as full of joyous song as its multitude of waves, and our lips as full of praise as the breadth of the heavens, and our eyes as brilliant as the sun and the moon, and our hands as outspread as eagles of the sky and our feet as swift as hinds — we still could not thank You sufficiently, HASHEM our God and God of our forefathers, and to bless Your Name for even one of the thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads of favors that You performed for our ancestors and for us.
    Simple arithmetic explains the 1020. The word “myriad” is a translation of the Hebrew revavah, meaning “ten thousand.” Hence according to this verse, the number of favors that God performed for our ancestors and for us equals 103 × 103 × 103 × 103 × 104 × 104 = 1020. This, by far the largest number in the Jewish liturgy, corresponds to more than 300 tovot or favors or goodnesses for each of the approximately 3 × 1017 seconds since the universe began. So vast is the quantity of miracles upon miracles upon miracles of our blessed human existence.

    Other prayer books seem to be embarrassed by the exuberance of the Hebrew original. In place of the accurate “thousand thousand, thousands of thousands and myriad myriads” of The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, they substitute the bland “numberless” or “infinite” or “thousands upon thousands.” Are we so modern that we must so constrict our consciousness, hiding, like Adam in the Garden of Eden when he hears God’s voice, from the superabundance of God’s gifts?

  6. The Paradox of Blessing and Language. Language creates distinctions. In blessings we use language in order to transcend the distinctions that language creates as we try to bridge the gap between ourselves and the source of all being.




    Menorah
    sent by Willi Niemann



    12. Honors and Awards

    • Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard University, 1968.

    • Summa Cum Laude in Mathematics and German Literature, Harvard University, 1969. The titles of my senior honors theses were “Functional Analysis and Schrödinger Hamiltonians,” directed by Professor Arthur Jaffe, and “Apollo and Buddha in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Neue Gedichte and Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge,” directed by Professor Christa Saas. In a letter of recommendation, Professor Saas wrote the following about my performance on the general examinations in German literature.
      “The results are stunning – and a bit frightening: Mr. Ellis, a mathematics major and a junior, chose to take the general examinations, required of a German major and honor student, in May 1968; he scored just about a straight 100 and was given the only ‘summa cum laude’ degree in evaluation. Next to sheer brilliancy of knowledge and evaluation, Mr. Ellis excelled in his proficiency in the German language . . . ”
    • Broadened Faculty Research Grant, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Fall Semester 1976.

    • Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, September 1977–September 1981.

    • Lady Davis Fellowship at the Technion, January–June 1982 and January–June 1989.

    • Invited postgraduate course (Troisième Cycle de la Physique) at the University of Lausanne, June 27–July 15, 1988: “Large Deviations and Applications to Statistical Mechanics” (four lectures of three hours each).

    • Adjunct Professor in the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I was invited to join the department in the fall of 1998.

    • Fellow in the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, elected May 1999. In the words of the award letter, dated May 1, 1999, “Fellowship is a way of honoring outstanding research contributions of our members . . .” The citation that accompanied election to Fellowship reads as follows: “For fundamental contributions to the theory of large deviations, including two research-level monographs; for outstanding research on the linearized Boltzmann equation, on correlation inequalities in statistical mechanics, and on the asymptotic analysis of Gaussian integrals and of systems in statistical mechanics, queueing theory, and turbulence.”

    • 2001-2002 Outstanding Faculty Award for Research in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Here are excerpts from the award letter written by Dean Leon Osterweil and dated April 3, 2002.
      I am delighted to inform you that you have been selected to receive the 2001-2002 College Outstanding Faculty Award for Research. . . .   It is evident that your colleagues all across the College as well as at other educational institutions around the world hold your abilities as a researcher and scholar in the highest regard. This award was established in 2000 for the purpose of recognizing outstanding research by faculty in the College and to honor individual faculty members for their research accomplishments. . . .   Congratulations on receiving this well-deserved award.
      The award was made at the Convocation of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics held on September 3, 2002. Here is the citation that accompanied the award.
              Richard Ellis is an acknowledged world leader in the study of large deviations, an important field having numerous applications including the analysis and design of high-speed communication networks. His most recent innovative work on statistical theories of turbulence is an outgrowth of his previous research on statistical mechanics and large deviations.
              Professor Ellis has produced a considerable body of published work, including two major research monographs on probability theory and applications, a well known theorem carrying the name “Gärtner-Ellis Theorem,” and many frequently cited papers on probability theory and statistical mechanics. In 1999 he was elected to be a Fellow in the Institute of Mathematical Statistics in honor of his outstanding research contributions.
              As important and impressive as Richard’s scientific accomplishments are, his intellectual activities extend beyond science. UMass Magazine recently highlighted his numerous contributions to the field of Judaic studies. As the article points out, “Ellis performs a remarkable and rare intellectual juggling act, straddling what the British writer C. P. Snow called the ‘two cultures’ of science and the humanities.” We are indeed fortunate that Professor Ellis has chosen to spend his highly creative research career here at UMass.

      Chancellor John V. Lombardi presenting me with the Outstanding Faculty Award for Research
      in the College of Natural Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst


    13. Articles About My Work

    • Steven Beeber. “Ellis Blends Creativity, Religion and Mathematics.” The Campus Chronicle, University of Massachusetts Amherst, May 16, 1997, page 10. This article concerns my novel, my research and teaching in mathematics, and my involvement in Jewish activities. “Ellis is something of a modern-day Renaissance man.”

    • Jason Eiseman. “Faculty creates Jewish group.” Massachusetts Daily Collegian, December 10, 1997.

    • Patrick Johnson. “Mathematician Drops Dickinson Bombshell: On Studying the Belle of Amherst’s Work, a UMass Professor Found a Hebrew Influence.” Sunday Republican, February 7, 1999, page 1. The non-Dickinsonian “Dickinson bombshell” in the title of this page-1 article is Patrick Johnson’s creation, not mine. The title of the on-line version of this article, “Poetry: Hebrew influence found,” is an improvement, although “conjectured” instead of “found” would have been much better. Patrick Johnson’s article concerns my work on correspondences between the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the Hebrew Bible. This article is referenced on the web page of Women’s History.

    • Donald F. St. Mary. “Professor Richard S. Ellis, Renaissance Man.” Newsletter, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Academic Year 1998-1999, Volume 14, Fall 1999, pages 3-4.

    • Terry Y. Allen. “The Poet and the Mathematician.” Synergy: Research and Scholarship at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Volume 3, Number 1, Fall 1999, pages 12-15. This article concerns my research in mathematics and my work on correspondences between the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the Hebrew Bible. “Ellis speaks gratefully of the richness of his life – his wide-ranging intellectual life, his life since his reconnection with his Jewish origins, his life within Amherst’s community of perpetual learners.”

    • Marietta Pritchard. “Mediums of Vast Extent: A ‘Rare Intellectual Juggling Act.’" UMass Magazine, Volume 4, Number 2, Spring-Summer 2000, pages 30-32. This article concerns my novel, my work in mathematics and literature, and my teaching. “In the world of work, Ellis performs a remarkable and rare intellectual juggling act, straddling what the British writer C. P. Snow called the ‘two cultures’ of science and the humanities.”

    • Phyllis Lehrer. “Expecting the Unexpected: Deviations Common in Life of Math Professor.” Amherst Bulletin, February 22, 2002, page 2. This article concerns my teaching mathematics and Judaic studies and the deepening of my Jewish identity through living in Israel. “The life and career of Richard S. Ellis has been determined by deviations.”

    • On October 26, 2004, Dana Mackenzie interviewed me for an article in SIAM News. A week later he informed me that he had interviewed more people than he had space to write about, and so he reluctantly had to omit a few, including me.
              The story of how Dana found me is worth recording. On October 21, 2004 he sent an email requesting an interview for an article he was writing concerning mathematicians who have serious avocations or hobbies outside of mathematics. “I'm not quite sure if your interest in Judaism, Buddhism, writing, etc. counts as a ‘hobby,’ ” Dana wrote, “but it does seem to me from reading your web page that you have a very rich life outside the ordinary bounds of math.”
              Curious, I asked him how he found my web page.
              Here is his large-deviation answer.
              “I found your web page in such a serendipitous way that it’s almost embarrassing. I found that one of the most effective ways to locate mathematicians with hobby x was to do a Google search on ‘mathematics professor x.’ One of the variables ‘x’ that I tried was ‘gliding,’ in the expectation of finding some hang-gliders or glider pilots. And in fact there were a few of them, but believe it or not, your page was Google’s #2 hit for ‘mathematics professor gliding.’ And it's all because you have a painting called ‘Gliding’ on your web page!
              “Incidentally, if I had searched for ‘mathematics professor Judaism,’ you would have been hit #20, so I would have had to scroll down to the bottom of the second page to find you. So much for rational web searching!”
      When he informed me a week later that I would not be included in the article, I wrote the following Buddhist reply.
      Dear Dana,
              Thank you for your email. I completely understand. In fact, the Buddhist in me enjoys being given this opportunity to practice letting go. I also enjoyed talking with you very much and hope that we will reconnect in the future.
              Thank you for your interest and good luck with this and all future creative endeavors.
      Regards,
      Richard
    • My book titled Blinding Pain, Simple Truth: Changing Your Life Through Buddhist Meditation was published by Rainbow Books in 2011. Material related to the book — including endorsements, articles, and a review — is available at the book website.




    Heron Storm
    The Heron Weekly #32



    14. Biographical Profiles

    I have gathered two sets of biographical profiles. The first set consists of my contributions to the (5 times n)’th Anniverary Report of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1969, where n=1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. The second set consists of profiles that I wrote in conjunction with my teaching in the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School.

    My contributions to the 5th, 10th, and 15th Anniversary Reports of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1969 are disappointing, particularly in view of the momentous changes going on in my life at those times: three short paragraphs in the 5th, one short paragraph in the 10th, and two meager sentences in the 15th — the latter explainable, no doubt, by the fact that I was busy working on my first mathematics book, a project that changed me both scientifically and spiritually. By the time the 20th anniversary came, I had started working on my novel, Blessings from the Dead, which was an outgrowth of my experiences living in Israel in 1982 and 1986 and my experiences writing the math book. Perhaps anticipating the difficulty of getting the novel published — a difficulty that has in fact transmuted into an impossibility — I realized that the Anniversary Reports were an easy way to get published, although they were circulated only among the member of the Class of 1969. As a result of this realization, my contributions to the Anniversary Reports from the 20th onward have been much more substantial.
    As I mentioned in Section 7, during the academic years 2001–2002, 2002–2003, and 2003–2004, I taught a course on Jewish texts at the Springfield Jewish Community Center. Entitled “The Purposes of Jewish Living,” the course is part of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School (FMAMS). The Mini-School is an international network of more than 60 community-based schools offering adults the opportunity to acquire Jewish literacy in an open, trans-denominational, intellectually stimulating learning environment. More than 260 faculty and 6000 students are involved in the program. During the academic year 2001–2002, I was honored by being selected as the first faculty member to have a faculty profile posted on the FMAMS web page.
    • Click to see the faculty profile that is posted on the FMAMS web page. “How did I get to the place where I am now, my Jewish identity having been stillborn in the preconscious, Garden of Eden years of my youth? More than twenty years after I had expelled myself from that garden to wander and to search, my Jewish identity took seed and flourished when, for reasons I don’t understand — my life until that point having prepared me in no way for this gift of consciousness expansion and identity transformation — I discovered Israel.”

    • A more detailed profile can also be viewed. This profile discusses in greater detail my work in mathematics, the deepening of my Jewish identity through living in Israel and studying the Torah, and other aspects of my life. “The theory of large deviations is a branch of probability theory that focuses on rare events, an appropriate subject for my research because of the numerous rare events forming the links in the strange, serpentine chain of causality that carried me from being an outsider in the Jewish society of my adolescence to being an adjunct professor of Judaic studies and a teacher in the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School.”




    Marsh Call
    The Heron Weekly #25



    15. The Lithuania Project of My Son: Preserving Jewish Memory in Lithuania

    My son Michael Ellis has established The Lithuania Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the Jewish history of Lithuania through education and philanthropy. The photographs that form the centerpiece of The Lithuania Project’s educational mission were taken by Michael during two visits to Vilnius: the first in August 2001, when he studied Yiddish at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute, and the second in May 2003, when I accompanied him there in order to experience the city where part of my novel, Blessings from the Dead, is set. The complicated history of Vilnius is apparent in the many names by which the city has been called: Vilnius in Lithuanian, Wilno in Polish, Vilna in Russian and English, and Vilne in Yiddish.



    Michael with Eve Poulteau, Director of Projects for the Vilnius Yiddish Institute


    During his visit in August 2001 Michael took the following masterful and highly evocative photograph of a pre-war confectionary in downtown Vilne. The name of the company is legible in Yiddish on the wall: “Konfektsie Fabrik Minyon” – Confectionary Factory “Minyon.” Poems by Yiddish children are still visible on the wall. The photograph shows construction workers pausing as they transform the building into apartments and cafés. The artistry of this photograph indicates the quality of the photographs that are part of The Lithuania Project.



    Photograph by Michael Ellis of a Jewish confectionary damaged in World War II. It is being remodeled into apartments and cafés.


    The following information is taken from the web page of The Lithuania Project, which should be consulted for details and for information on how to support the project.

    A Vanished World

    The Lithuanian Jewish community was incomparably rich in both the religious and secular realms. By 1939, Vilne was home to more than 60,000 Jews, over 100 synagogues, a scientific institute for the study of Yiddish, writers’ circles — the list is endless. And in just three years between June 1941 and July 1944, it vanished.

    But while many know of the community’s destruction during the Holocaust, fewer know of its former glory. Indeed, under Soviet control until the early 1990s, its history has been largely inaccessible, while its physical legacy — stone cemeteries, wooden synagogues — have fallen into disrepair, many sites plundered by locals or the government.

    The goal of The Lithuania Project is thus twofold: to educate about the Jewish history in Lithuania and to help preserve the land’s Jewish cultural heritage.

    The centerpiece of the project’s educational mission is a traveling photography exhibit consisting of 35 photographs. The exhibit narrates Jewish history in Lithuania, from the Jews’ arrival as merchants and pogrom refugees to their flourishing in the 19th and 20th centuries. Images of the 17th century cemetery at the shtetl of Vabolink, the 19th century wooden synagogue at Zitomir, and the modern Yiddish theater in Vilne tell this story.

    The exhibit then portrays the utter devastation of the Holocaust, focusing on eerily serene forest massacre sites and ghettos in both large cities and tiny vilages — including the ghetto anchored by Zitomir’s wooden synagogue. The photographs then examine the post-war period in Lithuania, including the erasure of Jewish memory through the plundering of cemeteries and recreational use of massacre sites.

    Though there is a growing fragment of a community in Lithuania today, the exhibit posits that Jewish life in Lithuania has ended. The image of one remaining letter — a taf or sof (meaning “end” in Hebrew) on the exterior of a synagogue — symbolizes this termination.

    Nevertheless, the exhibit ends hopefully by returning to the serenity of the ancient cemetery at Vabolink. In the end, the exhibit suggests that the true accomplishment of the Jews of Lithuania could never be destroyed: the transformation of a remote corner of the world into a Holy Land.








    16. Convergence: Buddhism, Judaism, Poetry, Prose

    • Buddhism. From The Great Flower Ornament, an ancient Buddhist scripture, quoted in The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality by His Holiness The Dalai Lama.
      In each atom of the realms of the universe,
      There exist vast oceans of world systems.
    • Judaism According to the Talmud, the Torah preceded creation as the blueprint of creation. Only after the Torah was consulted could God's creation commence. In the words of a Midrash, "The Holy One, blessed be He,... looked into the Torah and created the world." The idea that the Torah is the blueprint of creation has profound textual implications, which can be realized through the act of interpretation.
      [W]ith the proper methods of interpretation, one can unlock the mysteries of all being. Every crownlet of every letter is filled with significance, and even the forms of letters are hints to profound meaning. To understand creation, one looks not to nature but to the Torah; the world can be read out of the Torah, and the Torah read from the world.
            Susan B. Handleman, Slayers of Moses: The Emergence of Rabbinic Interpretation in Modern Literary Theory, page 38.
      Through the act of interpretation, we again confront the fractal nature of reality. The Torah is part of the world, which in turn can be read out of the Torah. The first word of the Torah is Bereishit, which is usually translated as “In the beginning.” Mystical thought venerates that potent cluster of six Hebrew letters as the Big Bang of creation, into which the infinite energy of the Torah is compacted.
      One begins with Genesis, the moment of firstness in which all is coded. Torah sources make clear that the entire Torah can be derived from the first word “Bereishit — In the beginning...” its manifold permutations indicate all that is to come.
            Akiva Tatz and David Gottlieb, Letters to a Buddhist Jew, pages 75–76.
    • Poetry. William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”
      To see a World in a Grain of Sand
      And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
      Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
      And Eternity in an hour.
    • Prose. Mark Helprin, A Soldier of the Great War, pages 604–605.
      In the evenings after dinner he watched the flame of the lamp. When the wind howled with great strength, it moved as if the abyss were trying to pull it away. Wind and darkness seemed to say that if only the flame would surrender and be extinguished, leaving behind a trace of white smoke, it would be taken at unimaginable speeds and in unimaginable cold, whistling like a million flutes, high over the mountains of ice, rocketing into the darkness of space in distances that had no limit and for a time without end — but the flame kept burning, wavering perilously behind a thin shell of brittle glass, and it lit the room, turning everything to gold.



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