The story of Moses is among the most important within Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt and the Pharaoh Ramses declared that all male Hebrews should be killed at birth. In an effort to avoid that, one Hebrew mother put her child in a basket and sent it down the river. The Pharaoh’s daughter found the basket and raised the child as her own. Eventually Moses realized his Hebrew origins, killed an Egyptian guard who was going to kill his brother, and then he fled into the desert. While there, he met Jericho, married and became a shepherd. One day, while he was tending his flock on Mount Sinai, God spoke to him through a burning bush and told him that he would set God’s people free. Despite his doubts, he went back to Egypt, showed some signs and the people believed him. He then told the Pharaoh that God said to let his people free. The Pharaoh refused, an increasing scale of curses was inflicted on the Egyptians, culminating in the first born Egyptian of every family being killed. On that basis, the Pharaoh let the Hebrews go. But then he had a change of heart, sent his army, through Moses God parted the red sea, took his people through and then the sea crashed down and killed the army. They then wandered in the desert for a while, going through various tests of faith and having doubts about whether they had been led to their freedom or their death. Moses went up to Mount Sinai for 40 days, the people assumed he was dead and made a golden calf (graven image) to represent God. Moses came back, saw that they had broken God’s covenant, and then he broke the tablets of the ten commandments. Many of those who led the people to follow the calf were killed. Moses went back up to Mount Sinai, got new tablets came down, and the people made the arc of the covenant. They then marched towards Canan (modern day Israel). It was occupied by another people who were stronger, people again had doubts, God then said they had to wander in the desert until all those who had doubts died and then they would be led to the promised land. 40 years later, virtually all the original people were dead, the people then had doubts again because they lacked water, out of anger Moses commanded some rocks to deliver water. As a result of this, God told Moses that he could not enter the promised land but that Joshua would lead the people. Moses died seeing, but not entering Canan.
As Kadampas, what can we learn from this story?
- Moses was able to speak directly with God. We too can develop this ability. As explained earlier, we first align our motivation with that of the Spiritual Guide, then we generate a mind of indestructible faith, then we make completely still and silent our ordinary mind. In this space, we then ask our question with a pure motivation, a mind of faith and a still/quiet ordinary mind. As a result of this, a vision, a plan or an understanding will enter our mind. It will make perfect sense and cause everything to fall into place. We will know it to be right and reliable. We then follow that advice. In the beginning, our practice of this will be weak, but if we persevere and continue to improve our motivation, faith and the ability to make our mind still, we will get clearer and clearer messages. Then we too can be come a prophet, one who can commune directly with the ultimate. Of course we don’t go around telling everybody this or they will throw us in the loony bin! 🙂 It is an inner thing, and we know it when it happens. It will not happen all of the time, but if we have faith, it will happen when we need it.
- Never abandon your faith no matter what happens. Time and again in the story of Moses, the people were tested, made to suffer, to see if their faith in God would falter. When you look at the long arc of the history of the Jews, they are a people who suffer endlessly, enduring hardships few could bear while holding onto their faith. Yet for those who did, God always provided in the end exactly what the people needed. As Kadampas, we should not base our faith on whether we are getting externally what we want, rather we should accept that whatever happens to us is what the Buddhas are emanating for our practice. If we abandon this view, our suffering will overwhelm us; but if we maintain this view, then no matter what happens to us it will be a blessing, not suffering. The Buddhas never abandon us, rather we abandon them by losing our faith.
- God made a covenant that if the people followed the ten commandments, he would also protect them. This can be understood like how our maintaining our vows functions to create the causes to meet the path again and again in all of our future lives until we complete the path.
- The final advice that Jericho gave to Moses and that Moses gave to Joshua is that the people should learn to follow God’s laws freely because they love it, not out of fear or obligation. This is exactly the same with all practices of moral discipline. We practice moral discipline not because we fear being punished if we don’t, but rather because we understand the karmic value of doing so and that by using our freedom to practice moral discipline, we set ourselves free.
- Moses followed God’s instructions no matter how crazy it sometimes seemed. This is a recurring theme in the Bible, and it is equally true for Kadampas. The Buddhas will reveal to us the path we are to take only if we are willing to follow it, even when it seems crazy to do so. This doesn’t mean we should become all extreme, but what it does mean is we need to be ready to follow even when we don’t exactly understand why or what will happen. All will be revealed in time.
- God demands perfection, and anything less is simply not good enough. There sometimes exists within popular culture and understanding that if we are 51% good, we will go to heaven. The story of Moses shows how even very minor transgressions or doubts can have huge consequences. The same is true on the Kadampa path. It almost seems as if the farther along we travel on the path, the more significant are the consequences of even minor transgressions. Getting to the pure land is not easy, and we should strive for nothing less than perfection.