Keva and Kavannah as 2 Wings of a Bird


It’s July 26, 2016, and I’m preparing for a presentation at this year’s (and my first) National Havurah Institute.  This piece was originally constructed for a combined Tikkun, joining 3 synagogues, in celebration of Shavuot….and it presents one way to view prayer practice, from the vantage point of having the rubric that’s been developed over centuries in the buddhism of Tibet.

The essential idea is that normative keva and kavannah can be expressed and understood even more clearly, when seen in terms of their fundamental relationship with mindfulness and awareness…which flow through the buddhist paths.

This presentation tracks that flow…hopefully to a good purpose.

Ira Zukerman

Now…see below

Keva & Kavannah as expressions of Jewish practice


A Rubric for Working with Prayer

Keva and Kavannah as two wings of a bird, aka, mindfulness & awareness (or skillful means & wisdom)

A Jewish Buddhist 3 Yana paradigm for Reconstructing/engaging Jewish practice


Pages we may refer to:


All references taken from a siddur…in this case….Rosenstein’s Eit Ratzon, either a) his Expanded version for Shabbat, festival & daily services, or b) his daily prayer edition).  But, these blessings will be in any siddur.

Text reference

p. 10                a) (lower) Prayer for Torah Study

b) (upper) Mah Tovu

p. 53                3rd blessing of the Shema

p. 80/79          Mi Sheberirach

p. 60              3rd blessing of the Amidah

p. 57              Mi-cha-mo-cha



Instructions for sitting meditation – from Chogyam Trungpa

A meditation instruction by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche


        Prajnaparamita Sutra

        On the paramitas, also reflecting on the 3 yanas of Buddhism

       On Tonglen instruction


Books shown and which you might find helpful:

Rosenberg – Jewish Liturgy as a Spiritual System

This text brought to life for me the ideas that have driven the understanding I’ve come to with respect to how to view prayer in a way that finally made sense to me

Kongtrul – Creation and Completion

Re this book, from the Buddhist tradition….its 25 page introduction helped fill in a bit some of the procedural details, about the overall pragmatics and pedagogy for engaging visualization altogether.  This is a system used in Tibet for many hundreds of years. I am suggesting we could bootstrap these proven strategies….and it only occurred to me to do this after first seeing Rosenberg’s book, above.

Chogyam Trungpa – The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, Volume II:

The Bodhisattva Path of Wisdom and Compassion

Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, of blessed memory, brought forward the tradition of Buddhism I came to train in, he’s written many books, and so many of them are good. For general reference, his Myth of Freedom is a great place to start.  The reason I brought this particular one is because it does provide a proof text, from him, concerning the alternating relationship between the ideas of mindfulness and awareness (or, keva & kavannah) that flow through the 6 paramitas of the  second of three paths discussed in this session.


And, over the last several years, I’ve put up a website that expresses many of these same ideas reviewed today.  Feel free to review:

(this website!)

Thanks, and Chag Shavuot Sameach (presented originally at a Tikkun for Shavuot 2016…

also planned for the National Havurah Institute 2016)


Ira Zukerman



  • Begin with the prayer for study
  • Then….

Quoting from: Judaism 101 & Tracey R Rich:

The Talmud states that it is permissible to pray in any language that you can understand; however, traditional Judaism has always stressed the importance of praying in Hebrew.”


  • Optional clarification
    • Two types of Buddhism can be associated with Jewish practice

A             Beginning

  • Darkness vs basic goodness; what do you believe is foundational?
  • Keva & kavannah as expressions through the yanas; foundation being the beginning
  • Before presenting Shamata/vipassana, present the 3rd blessing of the Shema, and review the principles of mindfulness reviewed therein
    • Practice
      • Consider that this may be included prior to davening
      • Before the Amidah, or at other sensitive places, aka immediately after Sunrise Blessings, or before Shochen Ad
      • Or replacing the kaddish, especially when no minyan is present

B             Middle

  • Heart Sutra – arnhants had heart attacks. This is not kabbalah. Kavannah aspect can be thought to point to clinging, and to Devekut.  Likely these are associated with Jnana states, but unsure.  Awareness is open. The analogy of Shamata/vipassana and keva & kavannah is strong, but experimental, frankly
  • Keva & kavannah (or mindfulness & awareness) is expressed through the 6 Paramitas:
    • Generosity, discipline, patience, joyful exertion, meditation, and wisdom
      • The aspects of Shamata and vipasana alternate through these 6 paramitas
    • Another important, and alchemical practice in the middle is broadly called Lojong practice…working with expressions.
      • And, one of these typifies and exemplifies these, being: Sending & taking
      • This is also known as tonglen
      • Similar to the Blessings practice IJS and others train in, I suspect this is lifted from the teachings of tonglen
        • Review and engage in tonglen practice
      • Show where this might be accorded with, in terms of mishebera-ich
        • A summary view of this middle view: realizing others are more important than oneself

C             Our Concluding portion

  • Ideally, the preparations of beginning & middle would be required
    • We do have the kaddish, and mesheberach as normative practices
  • One approach would be to stop the presses, and map out some of the other elements we could impute would be missing, by studying Kongtrul’s Creation & Completion, and contemplating such mapping, i.e., note we have no guru principle, nor stated commitment to “seeing through” nor egoless understanding of oneself in relation to the deity
    • Or, we could appreciate that as a community, we are jumping into davening, as our minhag, nevertheless, and consequently….let’s jump in
  • Our suggestion… the practice has developed in Tibet…and as a culmination of the first two paths of practice, we now engage the liturgy in a somewhat normative way. But…we do this with the intent of visualizing all of the included elements…to the best of our ability.
    • Show (and read/practice together):
      • 3rd blessing of the Amidah
      • Beginning of Mah Tovu
      • The Shema
      • And Micha Mocha
        • As highly representative, and appropriate targets
          • Along with the whole of the service
        • Notable notes from Kongtrul & Creation & Completion as strategies for visualization, with my edits. The 3 strategies to bring forward include:
          • Clearly visualizing the elements included in the prayer
          • Understanding the elements intended to be conveyed in the meaning of the prayer
          • Assuming a posture of chosenness
        • And note, with respect to the concepts of keva and kavannah, whereas I had presumed that we just missed the boat on the kavannah aspect (since the visualization practice is entirely the keva aspect), I’ve come to realize that the expression of the torah service really does serve as our appreciation of kavannah, to the keva of the form of the service as we have it.
          • Or, in other words, with respect to the morning service and mindfulness & awareness, aka, keva & kavannah:
            • The morning service is the keva and mindfulness aspect
            • And the torah service becomes the awareness aspect, I’d suggest
  • Could revisit the question of BATNA (Best alternative to a negotiated agreement)
    • This paradigm asserts and recommends an approach we could and should take as we engage prayer practice
      • Now that the idea has been introduced, what would we consider doing instead (while we daven)?