Yuval Ido Tal never realized his early dreams of becoming an architect.
Instead, his life took an unexpected turn after he read Tao Te Ching,
one of the three basic Taoist books.
"I bought it and read it three times in one day. It totally changed my life," Ido Tal tells The Jerusalem Post.
As well as being academic director of Psycho-Dharma (The Israeli School
for the Buddhist Study of the Mind), he is also a senior lecturer and
meditation teacher, translator of modern and ancient Buddhist writings
and a published author.
Many years ago he was studying
architecture in Italy, where he had a romantic notion of studying the
practice where it all began - in Florence. However, the budding
architect was not fully satisfied. "I started asking questions," he
recalls. "I thought I was doing something from the heart but I realized
it was a rationalization of the heart." He admits that he was aiming for
something that would give him more artistic pleasure. Enter Buddhism.
self-confessed hedonist, Ido Tal explains that it was hard not to
express that side of himself while he was studying. About a year and a
half into being in Florence he came across the Tao Te Ching (also known
as the Laozi) and realized that he had to make some major changed in his
"I sat down and wrote a 14-page letter to my dad, mainly
because he was helping me with my studies," says Ido Tal. "I told him
that I was going to quit school to go learn Chinese so I could read the
original Buddhist readings."
With the final decision made, the
young Israeli came back home. Upon arriving, his father informed him
that an East Asian department at Tel Aviv University had been opened.
The rest, as they say, is history. He started studying there and didn't
feel the need to go to China anymore because learning about the
different cultures became his main focus and that was enough to satisfy
It took the passionate student five years to
finish his Bachelors studies. This was not because he failed classes or
found it difficult. The opposite is true. If he wasn't "in love" with
the course, he would move on until he found courses that he could "make
"If I wasn't making love with the course then I
wouldn't take it. I had an aversion to anything that wasn't love
making," he recalls. After a Masters in religious studies, Ido Tal began
traveling to India and made special visits to Tibetan monks. With five
years of studying under his belt he began teaching basic meditation.
he gained more experience, he started teaching about Buddhist
psychology and philosophy. "It was never about tradition for me," he
says. "I never considered myself part of any Buddhist lineage. I never
wanted to be." Instead, his main inspiration was always Zen, something
that he says grounded him. Zen is something that has been important to
Ido Tal for some time and, according to him, is open to interpretation.
years of interest and study, Ido Tal explains that he went through a
transformation whereby "it became a lot less about me." He became more
interested in the Buddhist origins of Zen and decided that he wanted to
help other people.
Helping others is what he focuses on today,
mainly through his courses at The Israeli School for the Buddhist Study
of the Mind. The school is based in the Broshim Campus of Tel Aviv
University and teaches Buddhist psychology, alongside meditation as well
as other related topics.
"We present it at is it," he says. "We
don't try to adopt modern terms." Instead of proving a quick fix, the
school aims to provide people with the means to understand how the mind
works. Instead of looking at Buddhism in a religious sense or as a
medicine for suffering, the instructors aim to help people decrease
their suffering and to try to help students connect to sources of plenty
in their lives that are untapped. "We offer a better life, not a
According to Ido Tal, the Buddhist point of view
suggests that the human heart is mailable. At the courses offered at his
department the mind is treated in the same way as muscles in the body.
"Happiness is a muscle you can train," he suggests. "We try to see which
muscles are overused and train them accordingly."
brand of courses on offer attract a very diverse range of people, even
though most of them fall into the middle class to upper middle class
bracket, mainly because of the costs involved. A diverse range of people
can be found in one class, including artists, lawyers, judges, doctors,
poets, editors, agricultural specialists, students, pensioners,
teachers, social workers and academics.
With a wide range of
characters comes a wide range of activities on offer at the school. Some
of the courses are once every two weeks, some are once a week, while
others are three times a week. The aim is to match each person with
their own specific interests and how much time they can devote. "We are
not trying to offer a way out of everyday life, we are trying to offer
something that helps with everyday life," says Ido Tal.
stresses that they are not providing self-help courses. There is a
strong emphasis on interpersonal relationships. "We don't just want our
students to be happy. We want them to be better to other people." Yuval
Ido Tal is the author of
Buddhism - A Short Introduction, and
Selected Poems of Ogawa Yukimitsu.