When Jesus said anything attributed to him in the Gospels or elsewhere, he said it in Aramaic: a Middle Eastern Semitic language that was common to the entire population of Palestine at the time. Neil Douglas-Klotz, an independent scholar of religious studies, spirituality, and psychology, has worked for three decades to revive the body-based forms of Aramaic prayer and meditation practiced throughout the Holy Land of Jesus' time. In this interview, we asked Neil about The Healing Breath, his new audio learning course on the Aramaic Beatitudes—the ”Blessed are…” sayings of Jesus.
Sounds True: How did you come to discover and study these ancient texts and spiritual practices? What led you to this radical conception of Jesus and his teachings?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: More than 20 years ago, I began chanting and intoning the words of Jesus—or Yeshua, to use his Aramaic name—in Aramaic. I experienced a profound change in both feeling and consciousness, and this led me to make a thorough study of Aramaic, the sayings of Jesus, and early Christianity. I found that I had so much to learn that I decided to get my doctorate in religious studies and hermeneutics, so that I could speak with other scholars. Yet the original motivation for me was, and remains, spiritual transformation and healing.
Sounds True: What are some of the underlying ideas that permeate the Aramaic Beatitudes?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: Breathing, letting go, the power of the heart, and acceptance. In Aramaic, the Beatitudes define the “holy” as that which is “whole,” that is, what embraces opposites: dark and light, known and unknown, high and low.
Sounds True: What does the spiritual outlook presented by the Beatitudes have to offer listeners today? What were the Aramaic Jesus' notions of faith and of healing?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: The Beatitudes reveal Jesus' actual way of prayer, healing, and spiritual practice. Viewed through his native language, Jesus does not ask people to believe in him, but to believe like him. That is, to develop the same faith and confidence in Alaha—Sacred Unity, the ground of reality—that he has. It is from this rooted confidence that his healing power—through breath, sound, and touch—arises. And, as he says in the Gospel of John, those who have developed this power of rootedness will do the same things he has done, and greater.
Sounds True: Why is it important to understand the culture, psychology, and language of Jesus' time to unlock the real meaning of his message?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: The language and culture reveal a very different way of looking at life. Aramaic and old Hebrew do not divide mind, body, spirit, and soul from each other. Aramaic doesn't even have a separate word for “body” unless it is a “corpse.” For Yeshua, we are both “enfleshed” in a divine way and “enbreathed” in a divine way. The “body” is not naturally sinful, but an expression of the original blessing that began the Cosmos.
Likewise heaven and earth are not divided, but are simply two different ways of looking at life. Heaven is our collective reality, the way we are connected with all beings through the divine shem, or vibration. Earth is our individual reality, the way that we each have an individual purpose in life to fulfill.
For Jesus, breath, sound, and movement were always part of “prayer.” What we call the “body” was always included. Why? Because for him, everything was in motion in a sacred universe. Aramaic and Hebrew have no words for “standing still,” “sitting still,” or even being motionless. For him, it was as if we were on a grand caravan of creation, with our ancestors alive and moving ahead of us, our children's children behind us in the future, also moving, and the whole caravan, including time and space, moving together with the divine.
Sounds True: What are some of the specific tools and practices that listeners will be able to experience in the course of this program?
Neil Douglas-Klotz: Listeners will be able to experience body prayers—visualizations, intoning, chant, and awareness practices in Jesus' native Aramaic language. They can do these a few minutes at a time, or each day, in order to rediscover a source of life energy (hayye) and healing within them. They will find ways to transform their hearts and discover the creative power of the Cosmos, a power we can use to transform our relationships with self and others. Ultimately, these are practices for us to become what Jesus calls “fountains of shlama”—the creative flow of peace that began the universe.