My Kadampa understanding of the bible: The story of Joseph

After Abraham came Isaac, and after Isaac came Jacob (who was also knows ans Israel).  Joseph was the second youngest son of Jacob born of the wife that Jacob loved most.  When Jacob was young, his family came upon a certain kind King who reached an agreement with Jacob that they could stay on the king’s land in peace.  One of the king’s sons fell in love with Jacob’s daughter.  The son then raped the daughter.  After the king found out, he told Jacob and proposed that the two clans unite, with the king’s family converting to Jacob’s God so that the son could marry the daughter.  Jacob agreed, but his older sons were not happy with this so they attacked and killed the king and his family.  Jacob was outraged and realized they must flee to avoid the vengeance of the king’s neighbors.  As a result of the hard journey, Joseph’s mother died after giving birth to Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin.  At one point, all of the brothers took the herd out and slaughtered a sheep to eat.  Joseph told Jacob what happened and the brothers then resented Joseph even more.  Eventually Jacob came to consider Joseph to be the heir to the tribe and to the lineage of Abraham.  This made Joseph’s brothers resent him even more, so they threw him in a pit and then sold him to Egyptian traders as a slave.

As a slave, Joseph proved himself worthy as a worker and was eventually brought into the house as the house manager.  The wife then attempted to seduce Joseph, Joseph refused and the wife said that Joseph tried to rape her.  When the husband confronted Joseph, because he knew Joseph would never betray his God he knew Joseph could not have attempted to rape his wife.  So he sent Joseph to prison in the Pharaoh’s palace (instead of kill him as would have been custom if he were guilty).  After some time, Joseph also proved himself in the prison.  He eventually rose to be the in-house manager of the prison, and things were never better for the prisoners or the ones who run the prison.  His reputation grew and everyone wondered how he did it.  One day his old master came to him and said there were two prisoners arriving at the prison, two who had been members of the Pharaoh’s court but suspected of stealing something from the Pharaoh.  The prisoners each had dreams with many signs, and Joseph’s old master knew that Joseph had the power to read dreams.  The prisoners told Joseph their dreams, and Joseph predicted who was responsible for the crime and what their punishments would be.  The prisoner who was innocent then went back to the Pharaoh’s court.  Later, the Pharaoh had some strange dreams that portended to great problems but nobody knew what they meant.  The prisoner who returned to court said that Joseph could read dreams.  The Pharaoh summoned Joseph, who then explained that the Pharaoh’s dreams meant there would be 7 years of bounty and then 7 years of drought, and the only way to avoid disaster would be for Egypt to save one fifth of its crop every year in times of bounty to use in the times of drought.  So impressed, the Pharaoh then put Joseph in charge as governor of Egypt to manage this process.  Joseph had become the second most powerful man in Egypt.

Joseph managed the savings effort for seven years and then the drought started.  Running out of food, Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to see if they could trade for some grain to help them with the drought.  When the sons arrived in Egypt, they did not recognize Joseph – they thought he was simply the Egyptian governor.  Joseph at first threw them in jail, but then devised a way of testing his brothers to see if they had realized the need to follow God.  So he sent them back saying he would trade with them only if they brought back Benjamin, the youngest of Jacob’s sons, and successor of the spiritual lineage of Abraham.  At first Jacob refused, but then later had no choice so he sent Benjamin.  After they arrived in Egypt, Joseph set up a trap where he could accuse his brothers of stealing something.  He could have taken them all as slaves, but said he would let them go if they left Benjamin.  Knowing the pain they had caused their father earlier with Joseph, they all said they would rather fight and die than lose Benjamin.  Joseph then realized his brothers had found their way back onto the path and he revealed himself.  Joseph forgave all of them and sent them back to get Jacob to bring the tribe to Egypt where they could survive.  This was how the Jews came to Egypt (from which Moses later freed them).

As Kadampa’s, what can we learn from this story:

  1. If everything you do is pure, everything you touch will flourish.  Everything Joseph touched flourished for two reasons.  First, because everything he did was pure in accordance with the teachings of God (Dharma).  Since the Dharma is in accordance with how things are, if we act according to it, all of our actions will naturally succeed.  Second, because he worked by letting God work through him.  Joseph would not take credit for what flourished from him, but would rather view everything he did as God working through him.  In the same way, we can learn to have all of our actions of body, speech and mind be the Buddhas working through us to liberate living beings.  If everything we do is pure and if everything we do is done by holy beings working through us of course everything we do will flourish.
  2. If you never abandon your reliance upon God (the definitive Spiritual Guide, the Dharmakaya) everything, even adversity, will be turned to your advantage.  Even when he was sold into slavery or later being thrown into prison, he still managed to prove his worth and earn the respect of his captors, eventually rising to a position of prominence.  Because he was unchanging in his faith, he only knew success even when confronted with extreme adversity.
  3. If you stay true to your faith, people will believe you.  Joseph never lied, and as a result when he told his side of the story about the incident with the wife, the Egyptian husband believed him.  Because he knew Joseph was true to his God, if Joseph swore to his God, the Egyptian knew he was telling the truth.  Because for reasons of his faith Joseph refused to bow down before Pharaoh, even though he knew that could be punishable by death, the Pharaoh came to trust and believe what Joseph had to say.  This won his trust, and so the Pharaoh put him in charge.  Our commitment to our faith is what gives credibility to our Dharma words because people know we would never lie or misrepresent it.
  4. Any group that lives and functions according to the teachings of God (the Dharma) will endlessly grow.  Abraham followed the word of God and taught it to his family.  He passed it on generation after generation, and with each generation the society would flourish more.  This group maintained its faith through one existential challenge after another, yet always remained protected and continued to grow.  From this one small family eventually emerged three of the world’s great civilizations/religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Their ways have now spread to close to the half of the planet that has been the most influential on the planet for thousands of years.  God made a covenant that if people followed his law, they would forever be protected and flourish.  Such a covenant is simply how the laws of karma work, pure actions result in pure effects.  In a Kadampa context, if within our communities people live and function according to the teachings of the Dharma, because they are in accord with how things are, that community will always flourish.  If things degenerate within a community, it is only because people are not following the teachings purely.  This doesn’t mean that from an external point of view things will always get better, because very often the best way to advance along the path is through tests of our faith in the face of adversity.  But it does mean if internally we always remain true to our faith we will always be making internal progress along the path regardless of what is happening externally.

There is much much more as Kadampas we can take from this story.  Please explain in the comments what Kadampa lessons this story teaches you?

One thought on “My Kadampa understanding of the bible: The story of Joseph

  1. It is a great lesson in the power of pure faith and keeping our commitments. If we live by pure Dharma, we should also acknowledge that any success we have, the credit belongs to the Buddhas. We should also view external adversity as a test of our faith and rely purely on the teachings, trust the teachings alone. Thank you Kadampa Ryan.

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