However, it was in the 19th century, amongst Lithuanian Jews, that Mussar became an organized movement encouraging the deepening of spiritual and ethical growth through social, cultural, and educational study along with a prescribed set of tools and exercises for guiding Jews (and non-Jews) in how to live a moral and ethical life.
Mussar is Hebrew for "instruction" or "discipline" but is more commonly recognized as a synonym for the modern Hebrew word for ethics.
In its simplest form, Mussar teaches that each of us is a soul (distinct from having a soul) and the soul is inherently pure and good. However, as we grow up and journey through life, we develop passions, desires, habits and conflicting emotions that obscure our inner essence that remains pure and holy.
The practices of Mussar are intended to guide us through the path of pealing away the layers that have come to obscure the soul so we can once again function from a place of inner goodness, healing ourselves and the world.
I discovered Mussar accidentally one day when perusing the internet looking for evidence that my Jewish beliefs and practices could be consistent with the meditative exercises and Buddhist philosophies I had been exposed to while studying and teaching yoga. I found a great deal of peace and comfort in the Buddhist teachings, but found myself continually struggling to bring unity to these practices along with those of Judaism.
That's when I discovered Alan Morinis, educator, founder and director of The Mussar Institute. I read his first book "Climbing Jacob's Ladder, a personal biography of how he came to rediscover the ancient practices of Mussar. His story struck a chord and inspired me to purchase his second book, "Everyday Holiness." I love this book! It is a clearly written hand book on how to identify the soul traits that challenge us and obscure the pureness of our inner essence. He guides us through developing a soul curriculum that allows us to map out a spiritual life path and then clearly and methodically provides us the tools, techniques and practices we can employ to steer ourselves on a course of action.
When I first began to study and practice Mussar I thought I was exploring a Jewish ethical practice. But when I started keeping my soul trait journal and delved deeper into the philosophy and practices of Mussar, I discovered that it is not just for Jews or Jews seeking to balance Jewish and Buddhist beliefs. Mussar offers an opportunity for anyone seeking a way to express their spiritual and ethical beliefs through their daily actions to do so by mindfully implementing practical exercises and behaviors.
Should you choose to investigate Mussar, I would encourage you to go the extra step and do more than read about it. Following the clear instructions provided by Alan Morinis in his book "Everyday Holiness" will help you develop your own personal soul curriculum by identifying your soul traits. Maintaining a daily diary helps keep us mindful of our goals and challenges us to live our lives in harmony with an ethical belief system that urges us to be a good and decent human being whose daily actions will contribute to "Tikun Olam" the repairing and perfecting of the world.
I hope you will choose to explore Mussar with me. It is the kind of practice that invites and encourages group participation and discussion. I would look forward to the opportunity to initiate a Mussar discussion thread on this site.
You can order books on Mussar directly from this site. Just click on one of the recommended books or type Mussar in the Amazon search window.