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March 30, 2023

Dr. Marc Gafni’s Intellectual Biography

Dr. Marc Gafni is a cutting edge spiritual teacher, author, television personality, mediator, corporate consultant, iconoclast, and gentle provocateur.

He has written seven books, including the national bestseller Soul Prints, which won the prestigious NAPRA award for Best Spirituality Book of 2001, and was a main selection of the One Spirit Book Club and the Best Book in the Jewish Thought category in 2001. This book was also made into a National PBS special and an audio series by Sounds True recordings. Soul Prints is published by Simon & Schuster.

Marc Gafni’s second major English language book, also published by Simon & Schuster, was The Mystery of Love. It unpacks an esoteric Kabbalistic tradition about the profound relationship between the sexual, the erotic, and the sacred. The Mystery of Love was critically acclaimed and made into an audio series called The Erotic and the Holy, published by Sounds True.

Marc Gafni has been teaching and leading spiritual seminars, learning communities, training programs, and spiritual movements since he was in his early twenties. During much of that time, Marc Gafni struggled with the question of whether to teach conventional spiritual wisdom in a conventional spiritual context or to follow a more post-conventional style of teaching and living. This tension brought great dynamism to his work but also caused some dissonance. Now and in the future, Marc Gafni is committed to teaching a post-conventional spirituality that is rooted in traditional wisdom, yet fully adapted to the needs of a postmodern spiritual world.

Like some other leaders and teachers in this age of unregulated internet conversation, Gafni has been attacked on some non reputable or ill informed private websites and blogs. He has chosen not to directly respond to the blatantly false complaints or seriously distorted accounts of his life and relationships that appear on these sites.

However even when complaints are false, as in this case, Gafni believes that he, like any human being, must joyfully accept full responsibility for whatever his part might be in the contribution systems that led to false complaints.

In his words, even when a person is falsely accused and even if they are ninety five percent right, their power lies in the five percent for which they can take personal responsibility.

Marc Gafni is the co-founder – with leading spiritual teachers of the Center for World Spirituality.

The Center for World Spirituality is dedicated to producing a library of teachings on the human spirit, designed to help create a better future for our children and grandchildren. There are seven volumes in various stages of preparation covering a range of topics.

All of these books emerge from Marc Gafni’s own experience as a human being, teacher, and student on the path of life and liberation. Several are being written with co-authors. Topics include: The Unique Self and No Self; Non-dual Humanism; The Masculine and the Feminine; The Dance of Tears–the Path of Laughter; Sex, Ethics and Injury; Shadow Dancing in the Light; Tragedy and Transformation; Sexuality and Kabbalah; Integral Judaism; Integral Kabbalah; as well as a personal sacred autobiography.

Marc Gafni is also preparing a series of books on the weekly biblical reading of the Hebrew tradition as well as the sacred cycle of time as a spiritual path in the ancient Hebrew tradition.

Marc Gafni’s Teachings
Marc Gafni’s path of study and teaching has unfolded in several stages. Each stage transcended and included the previous stage in a direction of every expanding circles of care and compassion, moving from ethnocentric to world centric to kosmocentric.

Stage One: Ages 21-30
In the first stage of his teaching, Marc Gafni was an Orthodox rabbi, teaching the original aramaic texts of  Talmud, Kabbalah as well as  Biblical Thought and mysicism from within the Orthodox fundamentalist world in Israel and the United States. In the United States, Marc Gafni taught at Yeshiva University, and served Orthodox congregations both as scholar in residence and rabbi. He led a large Jewish outreach movement in New York and Long Island public schools dedicated to reconnecting unaffiliated Jews with orthodox judiasm.  Yet already in this early stage Gafni asserted a Judaism which held the koan of being simultaneously  ethno and world centric. By age 20 a core worldcentric position was already core to this teaching even as he remained ensoucned in the Orthhodox world.

Stage Two: Ages 30-35.
Following the path of many committed Orthodox Jews Marc Gafni moved to Israel where he served as a rabbi and taught classical Hebrew wisdom through prism of the Talmud, Kabbalah, and biblical psychology.  At this stage his thinking began to shift to a more liberal and embracing even as he remained formally within orthodoxy. His major focus in teaching turned to what he called stages of faith, revolving paritcularly around what he called the dance of certainty and uncertainty within the interior landscape of the religous initiate. He  two major  Hebrew books on this topic are slated to be published in english by Integral books.  The first, A Certain Spirit, redefines the idea of faith, moving from the old notion of the “dogma is true” to the more radical and profound idea “I am true.” In his second book during this period, An Uncertain Spirit, Reclaiming Uncertatinty as a Spiritual Value Marc Gafni challenged the age-old idea that spirit could provide certainty or explain suffering, and taught the spiritual path of dancing between certainty and uncertainty without allowing either to cancel the other,  as a way of realizing the highest human potential.

Stage Three: Ages 35-40
Gafni’s orientation and teaching shifted away from the classical topics of Jewish law and life cycle and moved towards the inner experience of the human being focusing on topics like laugher, tears, creativity, silence, sexuality and eros. At this stage, Marc Gafni began to read the Bible through the prism of what he called referred to as Personal Myth.  This work became the basis for the highly popular television shows that Marc Gafni created, wrote, and hosted for several years on National Israeli Television. During  Marc Gafni shifted much of his focus to the teaching of Hasidism, particularly an esoteric Kabbalistic teaching described by Gafni as Soul Prints. This teahcing resulted in the 2001 best seller and PBS special called Soul Prints. Soul Prints argued that the realization  persoal uniqueness as a gift to god within the theistic context was an essential form of divine worship.

Stage Four:  40-45
In the fourth stage of his work, Marc Gafni turned his attention to Eros, partiucualry to the nature of Eros and  the interrelationship between the erotic, the sexual, and the sacred. Marc Gafni’s work here described four primary faces of Eros that underlie all evolved reality, and went on to unpack how the experience of the sexual models the erotic in all other dimensions of living, including the dimension of the sacred. The first book to emerge from this study was The Mystery of Love, followed by the Sounds True audio series On the Erotic and the Holy. Marc Gafni is currently preparing to release for publication The Erotic and the Holy, a more extended treatment of this topic.

During this same period time, Marc Gafni wrote a three-volume, 1,000-page work Radical Kabbalah, Non Dual Humanism and Unique Self within the teaching of Hasidic Master Mordechai Lainer of Izbica. A small part of this work became his doctoral dissertation for Oxford University. In this work his teaching moved towards a non dual realization and the theistic context of Soul Prints evolved into the translineage teaching of Unique Self. It was doing this period that the core teachings of Unique Self upon which Gafni’s most recent work, Your Unique Self, The Radical Path to Personal Enlightenment were truly formed.

During this same period Gafni co-authored a major hebrew work (which will be released in english) on The Kabbalistic Myth of Lillith: Patriarchy, Sexaulity and Feminine Shadow which brought together the themes of sexuality, eros, Unique Self and  the re-emergent hebrew goddess.

During  the fifth stage of inquiry, Marc Gafni shifted his focus as well to the mystical, psychological and spiritual ‘Shadow Teachings,’ which he sees as being an esoteric strain within the Hebrew wisdom tradition. Here, he seeks to evolve the understanding of shadow beyond Jung’s conception, and to connect shadow work with the non-dual teachings of Kabbalah as well as with the ‘Unique Self’ teaching. Gafni’s work on shadow identifies three distinct primary forms of shadow, which include not only one’s hidden dark side, but also one’s distorted ‘Unique Self,’ and one’s unrealized divinity. A book of these teachings is currently under contract.

Stage Six: 40-45
Marc Gafni’ sixth stage of teaching aind inqurity  focused on the nature of enlightenment. In series of published dialogues with World Thought  including Ken Wilber, Moshe Idel, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Ram Dass, Brother David Standahly Rast,  Ken Wilber, Andrew Cohen, Michael Beckwith, Bill Ury, Don Beck, Father Thomas Keating, Byron Katie, and Jean Houston. introduced the radical hermeneutic that all of Hebrew wisdom may be properly understood as an enlightenment tradition. Moreover, Gafni showed in this teaching that perhaps the most important Kabbalistic idea, which lies at the heart of Luria’s Kabbalah,  is the teaching that the nature of enlightenment itself evolves and the eovlution of all that is somehow depends on us,

In Gafni’s understanding, the goal of hebrew tradition is to achieve a democratization of enlightenment—an enlightened society, rather than simply an enlightened elite. This teaching was articulated clearly by Gafni in two dialogues with Prof. Moshe Idel and Ken Wilber. Idel supported Gafni’s reading of the hebrew  tradition as an enlightenment tradition whose goal is the greatest possible depth of enlightement to the greatest possible span.

In this period of time Gafni’s relationship to the absolute legal obligation of the Halacho (formal Jewish Law) began to shift as he challenged the explicity assumed identity between the law and the will of God.

Stage Seven:  45-49
During this current stage of Gafni’s development the core themes of all his earlier teaching have been transcended and included into the evolutionary emergenet of a world spirituality based on Integral principles with unique self as it’s core first principle. During this period Gafni spend two year two three years recovering from a tragedy in his life.  After he re-emerged from a deep period of contemplation and silence he  founded a World Spirituality movement working with Mariana Caplan and Ken Wilber, Sally Kempton and other leading teachers. During this period he initially founded with Diane Hamilton, Sally Kempton, Sofia Diaz and Kelly Sosan Bearer iEvolve Global Practice Community which organically evolved into what is now called the Center for World Spirituality.  His current work expresses itself as a spiritual teacher, movement maker and public intellectual dedicated to unfodling the teaching of world spirituality around the globe. He is presently working on a series of groundbreaking books – the core book being written together with Ken Wilber–on World Spirituaity based on Integral Principles. At the same time he is working with a group of students, teaching privately and at public events around the world dedicated to fostering a compelling framework of World Spirituality. The core frame of the new teaching is what Gafni refers to as Enlightenment of Fullness.  World Spirituality as Gafni describes it needs to articulate a context of meaning to the hundreds of millions of people around the globe who can either no longer locate themselves in the traditions or who no longer feel that one religion can be for them an exclusive home.

In the present phase of Marc Gafni’s life, he has turned his attention in two paradoxically different directions.

The first is intense inner spiritual and psychological reflection on the course of his life.

The second is partnering with social activist leaders to create a new, grass roots human rights movement, which might effectively engage three major issues: genocide, human trafficking, and global warming.

While Marc Gafni will continue teaching, he wishes to do so as a spiritual ‘artist’ rather than as a rabbi, guru, or formal teacher. (Keep reading for more on Marc Gafni’s rabbinical ordinations, academic background, and teachers.)

“I am an aspiring Heart Master,” says Marc Gafni. According to the Master of Piacezna, a great Hasidic teacher who fought and loved in the Warsaw Ghetto and died in the Treblinka concentration camp, this is said to be the true goal of a human being. To master the heart means to own one’s own heart. To master the heart means to live with radical openness balanced with radical self-awareness and radical self-control. To be a Heart Master is to have the ability to inspire and help others to live this way as well.

“However,’ says Marc Gafni, “if I never realize myself fully enough to be a Heart Master, I will be more than pleased to be a Heart Servant.”

“So, if asked what I am, I would say, ‘I am Marc Gafni, the Heart Servant.’”

Gafni’s Rabbinic Ordination, Academic Background, and Teachers

First Person: I received Ordination many years ago from a well-regarded Orthodox institution in New York. Contrary to some rumors, that Ordination was never revoked. I retain a letter on my computer in which I wrote the president of the institution stating that our spiritual paths had parted in such a significant way that I no longer wished to hold Ordination from them.

I also passed a several-hour oral exam with one of the great Rabbinic minds of Israel today, representing the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and authorizing me to be a rabbi―particularly what is termed a Rav Yishuv. I retain that document in my records as well.

I have been asked whether I had, or have, Ordination from Reb Zalman Schachter. I retain in my records a document that Reb Zalman wrote for me several years ago. The document is not an Ordination, but rather an affirmation of my previous Ordination from the Orthodox institution mentioned above. When I returned that Ordination in 2004, Reb Zalman’s letter, which was based on my first Ordination, ceased to be valid. I have never held, nor do I seek, independent Ordination from Reb Zalman.

I am not a student of Reb Zalman’s nor have I ever been. I have in some very important ways benefited from his work, and I have publicly and privately thanked him for all this. I appreciate and respect the important contributions that he made to Jewish teaching.

I have tried in many ways, large and small, to be of service to Reb Zalman and have sought a particular kind of relationship with him. I have failed in this respect. I have not been in substantive contact with Reb Zalman since March of 2006, other than a private exchange of two e-mails.

I feel very connected to a close friend and chevruta, Rabbi Gershon Winkler. Reb Gershon, with grace and dignity, gave me the transmission of his lineage’s rabbinic ordination, as a friend. This Ordination may be found here in both English and Hebrew.

I feel connected to the same soul root as Reb Gershon. His primary ordaining teacher was Rav Ben Zion Bruk of Jerusalem, a great Master of Mussar, whom I feel connected to both through Rabbi Hillel Goldberg’s transmission of his Torah and through Reb Gershon. At this time, I am working with Reb Gershon on a major work, which we hope will serve as a kind of Spiritual Code of Jewish Law for those who will seek its counsel.

Regarding academia: Virtually everything I have learned has been in the classic auto didactic manner. However, my B.A. is from Edison College (a completely reputable joke of a school, which gives credit for non-academic work). I studied for one semester at Yeshiva University and one semester at Queens College. Neither worked for me. Back then, I wanted to study only what I wanted to study. So, I followed my heart and dropped out. I only received my degree from Edison later on so my mom would be happy. Later in life, I earned a Master’s degree in Jewish Philosophy from Bar Illan University. And still later, I wrote a doctoral dissertation under the direction of Professor Moshe Idel and Professor Norman Solomon at Oxford University. My doctoral dissertation was approved by Oxford University on April 2, 2008.

Having said that, I have little interest in teaching today from the place of a rabbi or a professor. Instead, I want to share from the position of friend. We have plenty of rabbis and no shortage of professors. It seems to me that today we need teachers who can give us an authentic transmission, and at the same time love us as dear and close friends—though always with clear boundaries.

Only recently in my life have I submitted to a teacher. My teacher is a very beautiful and great man who is the lineage holder of a stunning Jewish mystical tradition which was passed down from generation to generation for many hundreds of years. Most of the lineages of this nature were destroyed in the holocaust. His survived.

He is a profound psychologist, teacher, guide, and as his many students will attest, a powerful shamanic figure as well. He is the transmitted lineage successor of a great contemporary Peruvian teacher, recognized formally as a peer by one of South America’s great shamans. He appeared and found me during the time of my heartbreak, and has helped put the pieces of my heart back together. He has encouraged me and instructed me to return to teaching. I will follow his instruction.

He has had, over the years, hundreds of students who are―each in their own way ― receivers of his love and his wisdom. He teaches those who find their way to him. In this sense, he is quite similar to the teacher Don Juan, whom Carlos Castaneda describes in his work.