My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: The story of Saint Paul

After Jesus died and was ressurected, the disciples of Jesus didn’t know what to do or how to spread the good news of Jesus.  Peter then finally decided that, like Jesus, they can’t stay quiet and must be willing to endure suffering in the name of teaching about Jesus.  So Peter started teaching and baptising people.  Eventually the High Priests began to take notice.  Reuben, who was a leading priest but not the highest, decided to destroy what he considered to be a someone preaching to destroy the law, namely Jesus and his followers.  He felt he needed to do so to preserve Moses’ law and to pacify the Romans who feared insurrection.  Reuben convinced Saul, the captain of the temple guard, to join his cause and to kill if necessary all of the Jesus followers.  Saul was a Philistine, whereas Reuben was an Israelite.  Saul was extremely effective in persecuting the followers of Jesus, and became their most feared adversary.  When Saul went to Damascus to capture a key disciple, Jesus blinded him and asked him why he was persecuting him.  Jesus then told Saul that in a few days somebody would come heal him.  After Saul was healed, he generated great faith in Jesus and Jesus said to him that he had been chosen to bring Jesus’ message to the gentiles (non-Jews) and was to be called Paul.  When Reuben eventually learned of this, he wanted Saul/Paul killed.  Paul then escaped Damascus and went to Jerusalem.  He convinced Peter and the other disciples that he had made a genuine conversion to Jesus and asked for Peter’s blessings to go teach about Jesus to the gentiles.  Peter agreed and Paul went out.   Paul came to understand that this meant him eventually going to Rome itself to teach about Jesus.   He first went to modern day Turkey, then back to Jerusalem, then to Greece and back to Jerusalem.  Each time he went back he explained to Peter and the other disciples what was happening in the world of the gentiles, how they considered Jesus to be Christ, etc.  Just as Jesus taught the Jews that one should not be attached to the letter of the law, but rather to follow its spirit, so too Paul explained to Peter and the other disciples t not be attached to keeping Jesus’ teachings for the Jews but they could be understood by the world of the gentiles.  When Paul declared this in the temple in Jerusalem, the Priests wanted him killed, they sent him to the Roman Governor.  Paul explained that he was a Roman citizen and wanted to make his appeal before the Emperor.  So the governor sent him to Rome, which was Paul’s goal all along.  From there, Paul set in motion what became the eventual conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity.

As a Kadampa, what does this story teach me?

  1. We should rely upon the meaning of the teachings, not become attached to the letter.  The letter of any teaching has to be understood in the context of the society/culture that it was given.  But when society and cultures change, it is incumbent upon the practitioners to reexpress the same meaning in the new cultural context.  Whenever this is done, it will provoke resistance by those who are attached to the letter of the earlier teachings.  Venerable Geshe-la explains in Clear Light of Bliss that this is a principal root of sectarianism and is to be abandoned.  Jesus did this for the Jews, and Paul did it for the Jewish followers of Jesus.  In the same way, Venerable Geshe-la is taking the meaning of the Kadam Dharma as originally taught by the Indian Master Atisha but then later taught by the Tibetan Master Je Tsongkhapa and representing it in a Modern context.  This provokes resistance from the established order who view such repackaging of the teachings as a threat.
  2. One of the main messages of Paul was the need to put aside the prejudice the Jews had against gentiles.  The pure teachings of holy beings are for all beings, not just chosen people.  These teachings will need to be adapted to transmit the same meaning into a different cultural context, but they are for everyone.  Those whose primary concern is the pure spiritual practice of practitioners, they will see this logic, those who fear losing their power will not.
  3. Peter, Paul and the other disciples had to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and endure terrible sufferings, including torture and death, in the name of spreading teachings about Jesus.  But they were to meet this suffering as Jesus did, by loving those who persecute him.  In the beginning of Christian history, Christians were persecuted terribly, but they responded with faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these being love, and this won over those watching their persecution.  Eventually, it also won over those who were doing the persecution, including the Romans themselves.  Persecution still occurs, but in much milder forms, because those who were persecuted before us purified the collective karma of all those who follow after.
  4. Because Paul went to Rome, Rome eventually became Christian, and through this all of Europe did.  When Europe then proceeded to conquer the world, they brought Christianity to four different continents.  In this way, we can say that the actions of Paul, more than any other person since, established the Judeo-Christian world.  This is amazing skillful means of Jesus.

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