Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Esau and Jacob as twins. Esau was the first born, he was strong and a hunter. Jacob was born second, and was quieter and looked after the people. God came to Rebecca, Esau and Jacob’s mother, and said that Jacob was to carry on the lineage, but since he was second born, it would normally pass to Esau. Jacob used Esau’s pride to get him to offer his entire inheritance as first born to Jacob for a bowl of porridge. Later, when Isaac was about to die, he intended to give to Esau the spiritual blessing of the lineage. But Rebecca convinced Jacob that the blessing was to be his, so she encouraged him to trick Isaac into giving the blessing to Jacob instead by Jacob pretending to be Esau and asking for the blessing. Jacob did so, and Isaac gave him the blessing. When Esau found out, he vowed to kill Jacob once Isaac died. Isaac said that God allowed the blessing to pass to Jacob, so it was his will, so he sent Jacob away with a large ransom for a bride, telling him to go to Rebecca’s brother Laben and marry one of his daughters. Jacob fled, and along the way one of Esau’s men stole the ransom so Jacob arrived at his uncle’s empty handed. In the desert, God came to Jacob, showed him the stairs to heaven, and promised him that if Jacob relied upon God he would deliver him back to the land promised to Abraham. When Jacob arrived at Laben’s, he met Rachel, Laben’s second daughter, and instantly fell in love. When Jacob explained to Laben that he was sent to marry one of his daughters, Laben said that if Jacob stayed for 7 years he could earn a ransom for Rachel. Jacob stayed for seven years and everything he touched flourished, making Laben rich. Laben did not want Jacob to leave because he feared if he did so, all of the prosperity would leave as well. So he tricked Jacob into marrying his first daughter, Leah, by having her pretend to be Rachel on the wedding night. After he had lay with her, Jacob realized what had happened and viewed it as punishment for his own deception of his father. Laben said that if Jacob stayed for another 7 years he could earn a ransom for Rachel and then leave with both wives. Jacob agreed, had many children with Leah and then finally one with Rachel named Joseph. Because Jacob loved Rachel most, he knew Joseph would be next in the lineage. Knowing Laben would not let him leave, Jacob waited until Laben went out with his flocks for several days and then Jacob and his family fled. When Laben came back and realized Jacob had left, he went after him to kill him. But when he arrived he could not and he made peace with Jacob. Then Jacob continued further into his brother’s lands. When Esau heard of this, he went out with an armed party to kill Jacob. Before they arrived, Jacob went out into the desert and God said that he would be protected and that he is no longer Jacob but will be called Israel. The next day, when Esau arrived, he too could not kill Jacob because he was his brother. His brother offered for Jacob to join him, but Jacob knew that each was to found a great nation and if they were to be together there would be only strife so he set out elsewhere and started his own camp. The rest is in the story of Joseph which I will do next.
As a Kadampa, what does this story mean to me? What does it reveal about the Kadampa path?
- Deception, even in the name of serving a higher purpose, still carries a karmic price. Jacob’s motivation for deceiving his father was based part on a pure wish to carry on the lineage and part on impure motivations. Because most of his motivation was pure, the lineage passed to him even though it was through a deception, but for the extent that his motivation was impure he later paid a high karmic price by first having his things stolen, then having to work seven years, then being deceived by Laben, then having to work another seven years, and then having both Laben and Esau wanting to kill him. If our motivation is completely pure, then we can engage in negative actions of body and speech without negative karmic effect, but if our motivation is mixed then we will still suffer negative karmic consequences even if the majority of our motivation is pure.
- If everything you do is pure, everything you touch will flourish. This is a theme that comes up again in the story of Joseph. Because Jacob’s every action was motivated by his faith in God, everything he did was pure, so everything he touched flourished. As Kadampas, we can understand this through understanding how karma works. Negative actions produce negative experiences, virtuous actions produce virtuous experiences and pure actions produce pure experiences. This is simply the law of karma. Faith is a naturally pure mind (because its observed object is by nature pure), so any action motivated by pure faith will necessarily be pure. According to the laws of karma, it is definite that all the fruits of such actions will likewise be pure.
- It seems the lineage within the Judeo-Christian traditions passed through who the child of the woman the lineage holder loved the most, not necessarily the first born. Again, this is a theme that comes up again and again. Isaac was chosen over Ishmael, Jacob was chosen by God, but then Joseph was chosen over his brothers because he was born of Rachel, whom Jacob loved most. This makes sense when we understand how a being is reborn. The mind from the previous life circles when the parents are copulating. If the action of copulating is surrounded by love and virtue, it will attract a pure being into the womb.
- Jacob could not be harmed by either Laben or Esau because you cannot harm somebody who loved you and he enjoyed the protection of God. In the Kadampa teachings, we have the story of Buddha who could not be harmed by evil spirits because he loved them. The spirits saw this was genuine and could not harm him. Likewise, because Jacob’s refuge was pure, he enjoyed protection against harm from humans and non-humans. This is one of the benefits of going for refuge purely. So even though both Laben and Esau came to kill him, neither could.
- Israel (Jacob renamed) said that he would build a peaceful nation that would be a lamp for all. He made peace with his enemies and atoned for his sins. He worked for all of his success, rebuilding from nothing many times, showing not the path of entitlement but of merit. In the same way, as Kadampas we make peace with our enemies and purify our negativities. We work for our success, often having to start over from scratch many times in our life, showing that the spiritual path is build on individual merit.
3 thoughts on “My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: The story of Jacob”
As a child I carried with me a lot of feelings of being ‘bad’. My parents separated when I was just eighteen months old and I grew up finding it hard to believe that there could have been much love arising for them when I was created. On reading your Kadampa interpretation of the favours bestowed upon the child of the ‘most beloved’ mother it got me wondering if I had in some way sensed this even as a child.
I was the last of six children born to my parents. Now I consider myself the ‘fortunate one’, the only one of us to have met Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. All of those early feelings of being ‘bad’ have been healed.
I am enjoying the reflections you are composing here Ryan. I studied Theology at University and taught Old Testament Studies as part of an A level programme for a number of years.
My parents likewise got divorced when I was 1, and interestingly they both blamed me for the separation (circumstantial cause, not substantial cause), and ever since then my parents have hated each other far more than they loved us as kids. This sort of thing is always hard on kids and keeps psychotherapists busy when we become adults! But we need to remember something fundamental: we have been born into the vajra family of Je Tsongkhapa. Even if our parents loved us to the maximum of their potential, their love would be but a candle next to the blazing sun of the love of our Spiritual Guide which really is the love that brought us into this world. Geshe-la has told us that we are all the lineage holders now. We are his children, and he is our spiritual father.
I love and do resonate with that fact that Geshe La is our Spriitual Father and all the difficult things I have had in my life has only served me to find my true home with him. I have been so very fortunate.