The Persian empire conquered Judea, and the Jews were taken to Babylon. Over time, while there, they prospered and rose to high positions. Esther was an orphaned Jewish girl taken in and raised, like a daughter, by her cousin Mordecai. In a drunken state, the Persian king Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes) ordered his queen to appear before the court so that he could show her off as his most precious possession. Not wanting to be considered an object she refused. The king then banished her for disobeying a direct command of the king. To find a new wife, he ordered all of the virgins be rounded up for him. Mordecai told Esther to hide that she was Jewish so she could get better treatment. Due to her courage, integrity and beauty, the king fell in love with Esther and made her his new Queen. Mordecai overheard two conspirators who wanted to kill the king, and so he told Esther who told the king. The king felt gratitude for Mordecai saving his life. Later, Haman, a prominent prince in the area, became the king’s Chamberlain (much like a Prime Minister). Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, viewing him as corrupt, and this infuriated Haman. He then told the king that there is a group of people within the realm who refused to acknowledge the supremacy of Persian law and that they were a threat, and so therefore should be exterminated completely. Haman did not say it was the Jews, just some random tribe in the empire. The king agreed, and Haman set in motion his plans declaring that on a given day all Jews in the empire would be killed. When Mordecai informed Esther of this, she understood why God had elevated her to be Queen of Persia. She then went to the king, told him that it was the Jews who were to be killed, which included both herself and Mordecai, and the king was furious at Haman and had him hung. But the king could not undo the royal decree established by Haman that all the Jews were to be killed. The king then made Mordecai the Chamberlain and asked Mordecai and Esther to come up with a solution. The solution they came to was granting the Jews the right to defend themselves by force. When the day came, many died, but the Jews succeeded in defending themselves and as such were saved from extermination. To remember this, Jews now celebrate every year a special holiday called Purim. Some of the Jews decided to leave Babylon to go back to Jerusalem where they could be safe. They were led by Ezra, who had the temple of Solomon rebuilt and became their spiritual leader.
As a Kadampa, what does this story mean to me?
- Very often on the Kadampa path we will be put into certain circumstances that at first seem very bad but later we come to realize there is a deeper purpose. What started out as severe misfortune, is later understood to be our greatest blessing. Esther was initially kidnapped, but then became the Queen. Mordecai was to be hung, but later became Chamberlain. The Jews were to be exterminated, but were saved and became respected within the empire. In the same way, if we rely upon Dorje Shugden there will be various times in our life where it seems like we are experiencing great misfortune and we don’t understand what is going on. At such times, like the Jews did, we can feel that the holy beings have abandoned us. But if we maintain our faith and reliance, then over time it will be revealed to us how what seemed like misfortune was in fact our greatest blessing. It may not always be a great blessing from an external worldly perspective, but it always will be from an internal, spiritual perspective.
- If there is no harm to it, we need to sometimes act in accordance with local convention. It may be true that Haman did not merit being bowed down to, but unnecessarily provoking him prompted him to want to kill all the Jews. I understand that Jews are to bow down only to God, but bowing in this context is not declaring Haman a God (as would have been the case with Joseph and the Pharaoh), rather it is just recognizing his position within society and respecting local conventions. As Kadampas, we are to act in accordance with local conventions and to not engage in extreme behavior. Of course we should never abandon our refuge, even at the cost of our life, but refuge is an internal thing and sometimes we need to be skillful in how we express externally our convictions. Esther, for example, hid the fact that she was Jewish and respected local customs. As a result, she rose to be Queen and actually did more to break down the stereotypes because all were able to appreciate her good qualities without getting bogged down with religious labels. Sometimes this is also necessary for us Kadampas, though in general we should not hide things because we are not doing anything wrong. But there is a difference between not hiding and being intentionally provocative or flaunting our beliefs when we know it could upset others. We need to be skillful.
- Wherever the Jews go, they thrive on the merit of their actions. There is something about Jewish culture that causes them to thrive in all domains, political, economic, social and spiritual. They are usually a minority religious community wherever they are, but absent persecution, they generally thrive. The Mormans are similar. I think as Kadampas we can learn from these two communities and emulate their merit based success in all that they do. Nothing is ever given to them, but through the force of their own efforts and merit, they rise. We should be the same, learning to be successful in all aspects of life. We do so not because we seek worldly success, but because we seek excellence in all that we do, and all of our actions are motivated by wisdom, compassion and faith. Since our actions are good, it is natural that we will come to enjoy great success in all endeavors. But we must be careful with this success to not provoke persecution against us. One of the reasons why the Jews are so often persecuted is precisely because they are such a small minority yet still manage to be so influential and successful. If as Kadampas we gain in power and influence, we need to be vigilant to always use our power and influence for the good of others and we should make an effort to integrate fully into the societies we find ourselves. This will help protect against unnecessary persecution.
- Some Jews decide to stay where they are a minority, others choose to go to Israel, their homeland, where they can be the majority. This notion of a promised land is a big part of the Judeo-Christian narrative. Within Kadampa Buddhism, we have no such notions. Some people confuse the political cause of Tibet with the narrative of the promised land within the Judeo-Christian world. But this is a false analogy. According to Kadampa Buddhism, the Dharma is like a yoke on the surface of the ocean that goes from place to place depending upon the karma at the time. It has no fixed geographical location. Confusing the political cause of occupying and controlling certain geographical locations with the spiritual path of Buddhism, some people are willing to sacrifice the Dharma for the sake of the political cause of Tibet. As Kadampa Buddhists, we never do this. Of course we wish Tibetans to be free, as we wish this for all peoples, but there is no particular spiritual significance to worldly lands in and of themselves. In any case, we would never sacrifice our spiritual beliefs for political purposes.