Easter for a Kadampa – Becoming the Way:

For Christians, Easter is about Jesus conquering death himself and becoming the way out for all of his followers. Buddha had his Bodhi Tree. Jesus had his cross and resurrection. As Kadampa Highest Yoga Tantra practitioners, we have the Oral Instructions of Mahamudra.

Jesus had his stations of the cross. For Kadampas, there are multiple stations en our route to the clear light. We need to center ourselves peacefully in each, gradually building this way out within our mind – both for ourself and for others.

The first would be refuge in the three jewels. Then, moving inward, would be the charnel grounds. Then, inside Keajra’s protection circle. Then, inside the celestial mansion and mandala as our gross deity body. Then, inside the principal father and mother of the body mandala. Then, inside the crystal palace of our indestructible drop. Then, inside the indestructible wind and mind in the aspect of the nada.

Then, progressively through the appearances of the eight dissolutions; and finally through the Black Gate (of near attainment) into the infinite blissful expanse of the clear light emptiness.

Once inside the clear light, through mahamudra meditations on the emptiness of our very subtle mind, we then need to gradually purify it of our seeds of delusions (karmic tendencies, delusion obstructions) and finally the imprints from all our past deluded actions (obstructions to omniscience).

Once we attain the five omniscient wisdoms, we spontaneously appear in whatever forms are appropriate to lead all beings along the same path we just traveled. In this way, we conquer uncontrolled death and ourselves become the main gateway for those seeking liberation and enlightenment.

Happy Easter!

My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: The story of John and Revelation

Some time had passed and all of Jesus’ apostles had died except John.  John was hiding in a prison on an island, sending out letters to all of the Churches under a false name to hide his identity.  The Roman emperor declared himself a God and demanded that all Christians in the Empire take him as their sole god or die.  The son of a Roman general who was acting as a spy in a Christian village heard rumors that John was still alive, so he went to his father in Rome to tell the Emperor the news.  The Emperor installed the general as governor of the area where the Christians were with orders to kill John and all of the Christians.  The general then sent his son under cover as a prisoner to the same prison John was hiding at.  While there, John impressed the son and eventually won him over.  During this time John received a series of visions about how Jesus’ story ends.  He was transported to heaven, shown the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but with Jesus eventually prevailing over all evil forever.  They then try a prison break for John before they all are to be killed, and in the process the general’s son becomes a believer in Jesus and stops the Roman commander who was about to kill John.  Then, the general arrived, said that the Emperor was assassinated and that the new Emperor declared an amnesty for all Christians.  John then went back to the mainland and preached for a few years before he died.  So just as John was the last to stay with Jesus when he died, so too he was the last to live to spread the word of Jesus.

As a Kadampa, what does this story teach me?

  1. It was very hard to be a Christian in the early days, but because they never lost their faith despite their persecution their religion flourished.  There is something inspiring about somebody who is willing to sacrifice everything for their faith, especially when that faith seems to teach only love.  While believers will be persecuted, those who watch the persecution will be won over, and ultimately the persecutors as well will change their hearts.  As Kadampa’s we can admire and rejoice in such faith, and we can develop gratitude for those who suffered and died to keep the Kadampa lineage alive in this world.  In particular, Jangchub O.
  2. John was shown the end so that the followers of Christ would not lose hope and faith.  In Revelation, after horrific sufferings of war and fire, Jesus emerged triumphant, love emerged triumphant and in the end all were saved in the silence of heaven.  This is not unlike the story of Buddha’s enlightenment where all of the maras attacked him but he overcame them all with love.  The Christians were shown that love conquerors all evil through revelation, and knowing this gives them faith to follow the path of love all the way until the end.

I have learned a tremendous amount by considering each of the stories of the Bible through the lens of the Kadampa teachings.  We need to make a very clear distinction between mixing religions and appreciating all religions while following our own purely without mixing.  One extreme is sectarianism thinking that we alone have a monopoly on the truth and that only the Kadampa is correct.  This extreme is wrong because Buddhas reveal themselves in different ways to Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike.  The other extreme is mixing together all religions into a hodge podge of our own creation.  This transforms our ordinary self into our own spiritual guide thinking that we are somehow qualified to put together a spiritual path that is superior to the ones laid out by the holiest beings to have walked this earth.  The middle way is to follow one’s own tradition purely without mixing while appreciating all other traditions as valid for those who follow them.

There are close to 2 billion people on this earth who are Christians.  In particular, Modern Kadampa Buddhism has initially emerged in a Western, Christian cultural context.  Therefore, if we are to learn how to transmit the essential meaning of Kadampa Buddhism in such a cultural context, we must strive to possess the wisdom that can realize how the Kadampa path is revealed through the stories of the Bible.  These stories have shaped this civilization.  If we can see the Dharma in these stories, we will be able to see the Dharma in this civilization, and as such be much more capable of transmitting this wisdom perfectly.  It is with that intention that I have engaged in this project.  It is part of my appreciating other religions, but my appreciation arises out of how they reveal the truth of the Kadampa path or how the Kadampa path explains these stories and this religion.  Realizing this appreciation of the Judeo-Christian world through the lens of the Kadampa helps us eliminate the grasping at any tension between the cultural context we inhabit and the teachings of the Kadampa.  Therefore it helps us accomplish our mission of achieving the union of modern life and Kadampa Buddhism.    Just as it is not mixing to derive Kadampa lessons from the stories of our everyday life, so too it is not mixing to derive Kadampa lessons from what so many consider “the greatest stories ever told.”

I dedicate any merit I may have collected by doing this series of posts so that Dorje Shugden will bless the minds of all those who read these words and bestow upon them correct Kadampa understandings regardless of whether what I wrote was correct or non-sense.  Sometimes reading non-sense helps us realize wisdom, and so may whatever mistakes I have made ripen only as pure wisdom in the minds of those who read these posts.  May all Kadampas unite seamlessly their modern lives with Kadampa Buddhism in such a way that, like a magic crystal,it  functions to transform this ordinary impure world into a pure land in which all beings are free forevermore.

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.

My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: The story of Jesus

The story of Jesus created the Christian world.  Jesus was born of a virgin mother, Mary.  Three wise kings followed the North Star to lay gifts at his cradle in the manger.  He was raised as a carpenter by Mary’s husband, Joseph.  A young woman from the family of Lazerus fell in love with Jesus, but Jesus could not reciprocate.  When Joseph died, Jesus went out into the wilderness to find God.  He first came upon John the Baptist, a relative of his.  Jesus asked John to Baptize him, and when he did a dove entered into Jesus and God spoke to all those watching that this was his son with whom he is pleased.  Jesus then went out into the desert for 40 days where he was tempted by the devil by wealth, power and the like.  Jesus then went back to his mother’s villiage where his first two followers were waiting for him.  After he healed from his desert wounds, he went of a friend’s wedding party.  One of his first two followers developed doubts wondering whether it was right to be at a wedding when Judea was under Roman occupation.  Mary encouraged Jesus to perform a miracle to establish faith in that one follower.  So Jesus turned water into wine.  Then he went to another village and the priests of the village wanted to expose Jesus as a charlatan so they sent to him a case of a woman who was to be stoned for adultry.  Jesus said “let he who is without sin throw the first stone,” and everybody went away in wonder.  Then Lazarus died and Jesus went to his tomb and raised him from the dead.  The High Priest of the Temple then feared that Jesus could spark a rebellion, which Rome would then crush along with the Temple and all of the blood of the direct descendants of the prophets, so he wanted Jesus dead.  King Herod, the Jewish king, feared that Jesus was coming to be considered as the King of the Jews so he wanted Jesus dead.  The Roman Governor feared that if there were a rebellion, Rome would kill him because it was tired of having to station so many troops to hold an area from an unruly tribe.  So the Roman Governor wanted him dead too.  Jesus realized that by willingly sacrificing himself as an act of love would pacify all of the conflict, bring peace and unleash a great wave of faith in God that was to become the Christian world.  He later said in the garden before being arrested that he would sacrifice himself to show people that you can love until the very end.  He then had the Last Supper with his disciples where he offered bread as his body and wine as his blood as his covenant with God’s people.  Judas then turns him in for money, Jesus is arrested, taken to the priests who rule that he should be killed, but only the Roman Governor could declare a death sentence, so they sent him to the Governor.  The Governor didn’t want to trigger a revolution by being the one who killed him, so he said it was for Herod to decide.  Herod did not want to be the one to kill him because then the people would totally hate him and he would lose his crown.  So Herod sent him back to the Priests, who then took him again to the Governor.  The Governor then flogged him and gave him a thorny crown but said he would not kill him.  This forced the Priests to beg so that he could avoid blame but still order the crucifixion.  Jesus then had to carry his cross up the hill.  He was then hung up on the cross.  At one point he said of his killers, “forgive them father for they know not what they do”, then just before the end before Jesus was to die he voiced “Oh God, why have you forsaken me?”  He then followed by willingly offering himself in sacrifice to save all beings from their sins and then he dies.  When he dies, the Temple of the High Priest cracks.  They then bury Jesus, but three days later he rises from the dead.  Jesus then went to his disciples, showed them that he was alive, encouraged them to go spread the good news, then promised that he would be with them until the end of time.  With this very brief account I have glossed over an extremely profound story, but I have at least tried to lay out the main themes for purposes of this blog post.

So as a Kadampa, how do I view this story, what does it teach me about the Dharma?  Really, I could write about 10 posts on this, so I will have to stick with the main points.

  1. All great beings have a great birth story.  Every being, actually, has a birth story.  It is actually quite useful to know our birth story.  Our birth story will have a big impact on our entire life’s trajectory.  Founders of paths always have great birth stories as a means of inspiring deep faith in the society within which the religion is being born.  Jesus had the immaculate conception, wise kings, etc.  Buddha had being born as a prince, the elephants coming down, etc.  Venerable Geshe-la was born on Buddha’s Turning the Wheel of Dharma Day.  Buddha is the founder of the Dharma in this world and Venerable Geshe-la is one of his “prophets” who appeared in a certain cultural context of the modern West.
  2. Miracles depend upon faith in those benefiting from the miracle.  Jesus performed all sorts of miracles so that others could generate faith in him.  But each time before he did a miracle, he always asked whether the other person believed he could heal them, raise somebody from the dead, etc.  After they said yes, then the miracle happened.  When we understand the relationship between emptiness, karma and blessings this makes perfect sense.  Blessings function to activate certain karmic seeds, such as the seeds of being healed.  Faith in holy beings opens the blinds of our mind to let the sunlight of their blessings to enter our mind and activate the seed.  The seed itself is just a karmic appearance, as is everything else.  So if we have these three, emptiness, karma and blessings, then miracles are perfectly possible.
  3. Jesus had to endure all that he did as a human would, so even though he was an emanation from the Dharmakaya, he conventionally showed the aspect of enduring all that he did as a human being.  The purpose of this is to show that if he can do it as a human, then I can do it as a human too.  Otherwise, people can dismiss his deeds as only possible because he was already a holy being.
  4. Jesus is a Buddha of purification and love.  All of the torment that was inflicted upon him was him taking on the negative karma of all living beings.  By generating faith in him as somebody who has taken upon himself all of our negative karma, we receive his special blessings which function to cleanse our mind of all negativity.  Likewise, he is a Buddha of love.  He said in the garden that he is voluntarily allowing himself to be killed so that he could show all beings that you can love all the way to the end.  He realized that by giving his life, he could purify completely the collision between Rome, the Jewish rebels and the High Priests.  Because he willfully gave his life in this way, this collision was purified, which then later paved the way for Christianity to eventually spread to the Roman empire where it has come to dominate Western civilization.
  5. Assuming Jesus had a perfect realization of emptiness, there is nothing that would necessarily prevent him from himself rising from the dead.  When we die, our consciousness can stay in our body for up to three days.  If we have control over our mind and winds, I don’t see any particular reason why he could not reinfuse himself into his subtle body and body.  But I think more likely what the explanation is is the disciples had on their minds very powerful karmic seeds of faith in Jesus.  Since Jesus’s body is an emanation body of a Buddha, he could bless the minds of the disciples which activates these seeds of faith which then enables them to see his emanation body again.  If Je Tsongkhapa and other Buddhas can appear to people after they have passed away through this mechanism, there is no reason why Jesus could not have done the same.
  6. Jesus helped the people of the time modernize their understanding of God’s law.  When holy beings first come, they establish their spiritual path and the people understand it and follow it purely.  But over time, people begin to grasp at the letter of the teachings and not their meaning.  As the karmic circumstance of the world continues to change, the letter of the teachings no longer perfectly fit with the new karmic conditions of the world, the same words no longer transmit the same meaning.  But not understanding practitioners should follow the meaning and not the letter of the words, some can become fundamentalist and sectarian in their interpretation of the teachings – sticking to the literal words dogmatically, even under circumstances where it is not appropriate to do so.  This is a danger for any spiritual tradition.  This had happened to the High Priests, and Jesus came and explained the meaning of the teachings.  Some of the Priests considered that blasphemy and contrary to Moses’ law, and so they therefore wanted him dead since they viewed him as spreading false teachings.  Venerable Geshe-la has done the same thing for us by bringing the meaning of the Kadampa teachings into a modern context.  We are very fortunate to be born at a time of spiritual rejuvination in this way.  In many respects, we are like those fortunate enough to be the direct disciples of Je Tsongkhapa or Jesus.

My Kadampa understanding of the bible: The story of Esther

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: The story of Samson and Delilah

The story of Samson takes place at a time when God is punishing the Israelites for not following God’s laws.  They are living under occupation by the Philistines.  The Israelites long to be free, but nobody is strong enough to lead a rebellion.  God then came to a couple that was too old to conceive and said that they would have a child who would free the Israelites – he would have superhuman strength, but should not drink alcohol or cut his hair.  He was born and grew up without any further signs.  Everyone knew he was strong and they wanted him to lead a revolt, but Samson knew if he did so they would just all die.  At one point, a Philistine patrol attacked his quasi-girlfriend and he defeated them.  At another point, he wrestled a lion and won. His myth grew and so the Philistines feared him, so they tried to capture him.  But he killed them all with a bone.  Seeing that his people did not help them, he gave up on them and went out wandering.  He came upon a kind Philistine family, fell in love with the daughter and wanted to marry her.  Samson’s mother thought this was terrible because she was not an Israelite, but Samson married her anyways.  At the party after the wedding, the Philistine army pressured the father of the bride to ask his daughter for the answer to the riddle that Samson posed to everyone.  Under pressure she did so, and when the army captain solved the riddle Samson realized what had happened, became enraged and killed all of the Philistine soldiers who were there. Later the Philistines killed his wife, and then Samson started a Rambo-like solitary war against the Philistines.  The Philistines didn’t know how to stop him through force, but they identified his weakness was beautiful women.  So they sent a princess, Delilah, to him.  She tricked him into falling in love with her, and she got him to reveal that his strength depended upon his hair not being cut.  She then cut his hair, he lost his strength and was captured and blinded.  The Philistines then proceeded to crush the Israelite rebellion.  Samson then went to work as a slave in the Philistine iron mines, where he labored and regained his strength.  At a party celebrating the Philistine victory, they brought Samson and tied him to some pillars to show off as a prize of war.  Samson, though blind, requested God’s blessings for strength again and he tore the pillars down causing the entire temple to collapse, killing all of the Philistine noble court.  This then turned the tide of the war and the Israelites were free of the Philistine occupation.

As a Kadampa, what does this story teach me about the Dharma?

  1. When we are confronting suffering, it is good to draw the connection between our suffering and our own past wrong deeds.  The Israelites felt that the suffering of the Philistine occupation was God punishing them for their wrong deeds. The conclusion of this view is to accept the suffering as atonement and to redouble one’s efforts to follow moral discipline.  While in Kadampa terms we would never say that Buddha’s punish us for our wrong deeds, we would say that our past wrong deeds are the cause of all of our own present suffering.  This brings us to the same conclusion of the need to purify and redouble our efforts at moral discipline.
  2. Holy beings have the power to transform even our own uncontrolled delusions into something useful if we never abandon our reliance.  This is actually a very profound point which can easily be misunderstood.  Samson had three main minds:  faith in God, lust for women and a burning desire for revenge.  The latter two are obviously deluded minds.  But because he had faith, and the people of Israel had faith in him and God, God was able to channel Samson’s uncontrolled deluded actions skilfully towards a higher good of freeing the Israelites from oppression.  Thus, God was able to take even the impure and contaminated and use it for good because the power of faith of all those involved was greater than the delusions.  In exactly the same way, we are still deluded beings.  Even if we are still highly deluded beings, uncontrolledly forced to follow their deceptive advice, if we rely sincerely upon Dorje Shugden he can transform even our negative karma and delusions into our spiritual path – such is his power!  Our negative karma may ripen, but our faith opens our mind to view our suffering with wisdom and therefore learn spiritual lessons.  Our delusions may push us to engage in all sorts of stupid, deluded actions, but through our reliance on Dorje Shugden the mess that emerges from our wrong actions will still be what is perfect for our own and other’s swiftest possible enlightenment.  Disasters may strike us due to our own deluded and negative actions, but through the power of the Wisdom Buddha Dorje Shugden, he can transform these disasters into a perfect condition for our enlightenment.  We may not realize how at first, but over time it will become revealed to us how our past disasters were in fact our greatest blessings.  It will be revealed to us how our own past mistakes are our greatest teachers.  This does not mean delusions and negativities are good and are not to be abandoned, rather it means even if we are still deluded and negative, if we nonetheless maintain our faith the holy beings have the power to keep us moving forward on the path.  Such is their power.
  3. The Israelites always believed in a messiah, somebody who could come and deliver them from their suffering and oppression.  They believed this while under Philistine occupation, they believed Samson was sent to deliver them.  They believed that with Jesus as well.  As a Kadampa, how can we understand this?  We can understand this through faith in the laws of karma.  If you believe in a messiah, then you realize he will only come if you merit him coming through your atoning for your wrong deeds and by training in virtuous deeds.  By purifying and practicing moral discipline in this way, you create the karmic causes for a higher rebirth free from oppression and gross forms of suffering.  Higher rebirth does not just happen when one dies and is reborn, but it can happen many times even within a single human life.  So by believing in a messiah and acting accordingly, you create causes for the situation to change and for you to become more free.  Sometimes this may take many generations as the society as a whole accumulates the collective karma for their situation to change, but if people perservere with this course it is just a question of time before the “messiah” will come (will karmically appear).  The messiah might not always be a person and the messiah may not always liberate us in the way we think, but the effect will definitely be accomplished.  This is true due to the infallibility of the laws of karma.  Understanding this, when we find ourselves in a very difficult or unfree situation, if we strongly believe in the “messiah” of pure deeds, we will be delivered from bondage.  It is guaranteed!

My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: The story of Jerimiah

The story of Jerimiah takes place several hundred years after the story of Solomon.  He was the son of a high priest in Jerusalem.  Things had become very degenerate since Solomon.  When he was a child, God came to him in a dream and said he would be a prophet.  When he got older and was about to become a priest himself, he decided he wanted to marry.  But the king ordered her family into slavery because they failed to pay a debt.  God then came to him again and had him say in front of the temple that if people did not mend their ways, God would pass his judgment.  The king of Jerusalem heard this, Jerimiah’s father turned his back on him and Jerimiah left the city so that he could go marry the woman he loved.  God came to him in the desert and told him that he shall not marry nor have kids, but instead he should return to Jerusalem and tell the king it was not too late to repent, but if he failed to do so Babylon would come and destroy the city.  When Babylon came, the old king died, and his son was given up to the king of Babylon to save the city and a new king was crowned who was to pay tribute to Babylon.  Later the new king changed his mind and said he would not pay the tribute thinking he could form an alliance with the Egyptians.  God then had Jerimiah tell the new king that his alliance would fail and the city would be attacked, but to save the city and the people everyone should surrender to Babylon.  The king and his general refused this, threw Jerimiah in prison but then the alliance with the Egyptians failed and Babylon came and attacked again just as Jerimiah had predicted.  The king then asked what he could so, and Jerimiah said it was too late, he would become a slave.  Jerusalem fell, the city burned, and the king and his family were taken to Babylon where all but the king were killed.  The king was blinded.  Knowing of Jerimiah’s deeds, the king of Babylon ordered him freed, and Jerimiah predicted that the temple would eventually be rebuilt, both in Jerusalem and in men’s hearts.

As a Kadampa, what can I learn from this story?

  1. Once again, this theme of being a prophet comes up.  We need to learn how to open up lines of internal communication between ourselves and our Spiritual Guide.  Through training in faith, pure motivation and emptiness we can do this.  We need perfectly reliable guidance in every moment of our life, and with training we can have it.  Sometimes, we will be called to do absolutely crazy things (like returning to Jerusalem to tell the king he is doomed…), but if we have faith and rely sincerely we can accomplish any spiritual task given to us.  Nowadays, we don’t do things that are conventionally crazy, but we can nonetheless be inspired by the stories of the prophets and their willingness to follow the directions of God even though it meant great loss.
  2. If our actions are negative, it is just a question of time before doom will strike.  The reason why Jerusalem was destroyed was due to the collective karma of the beings who inhabited it.  Because they lost their moral discipline, they lost their refuge and therefore became subject to attack.
  3. Once negative karma has begun to ripen, the best thing to do is accept it and transform it.  Of course it is best to purify negative karma before it has ripened, but once it has there is nothing that can be done.  The negative karma of having Jersalem destroyed was activated and set in motion.  Jerimiah encouraged everyone to accept their fate and surrender to it because if they fought, they would be killed.  Within the Dharma, in every situation either we have some control or we don’t.  If we have some control, we should change things.  If we do not, then we should accept/transform.
  4. Sometimes things need to be destroyed in order to be rebuilt anew.  People had lost their way and it had reached the point where there was no reforming them.  In such a situation, it is better to just scrap everything and rebuild anew.  This may sometimes happen in our spiritual life where everything about the life we have is destroyed, but this frees things up for a new life to start anew.  This happens during our lives, and it happens as we pass from one life to the next.  We should accept this when it happens and focus on looking forward to building a new, better world.

My Kadampa understanding of the bible: The story of Solomon

Solomon was David’s son who God said would build God’s temple and home.  Prior to David’s death, fulfilling the prophecy again of evil rising up in his own house, one of David’s other sons plotted to become King instead of David’s wish that it be Solomon.  After thwarting the coup, David said he would spare his other son who plotted the coup since he did not want to kill his own son.  But he said that Solomon would have to decide what to do.  On David’s death bed, he told Solomon that if the other son plotted again to take the crown after David died that Solomon should kill him.  After David died, the other son plotted again, but failed.  Fearing for his life, he took refuge in front of the Arc of the Covenant.  Solomon had him killed anyway as a show of his strength and seeing it as David’s will.  After Solomon became king, God said he would grant him one gift.  Solomon asked for the wisdom to rule over his people justly.  God granted him wisdom and Solomon was to build the temple for God.  To do so, Solomon had to have high taxes and use forced labor, but the people accepted this because they understood the purpose was good, namely to build the temple.  Foreign architects and engineers were brought in to oversee construction, but eventually they were trained and replaced with Israelites managed by Jeriboham.  Solomon eventually completed the temple and the people were very happy.  But then Solomon felt like his life had no purpose, he was adrift.  He then wandered out into the desert, and God spoke to him saying if Solomon remained true to the one true God then God would remain with him for the rest of his days, but if he started mixing with other Gods then God would take his kingdom away.  News of Solomon’s wisdom and activities spread far and wide, and the Queen of Sheeba came to Jerusalem.  David fell madly in love with her, and got her to agree to stay and be his queen.  She became pregnant and Solomon said that this child would be his heir.  After the child was born and Solomon announced his plans, the priests said it was against the law for somebody born of a non-Israelite to become king.  Jeriboham counselled him that if he goes against the priests he will provoke a revolution since the people would never follow.  So the Queen of Sheeba proposed that Solomon’s son go with her back to her land in Africa and become king of her people.  Solomon agreed and sent learned people and lots of gold with her.  The people resented that their taxes were going to fund the Queen of Sheeba’s kingdom.  After she left, David fell into a deep depression.  He then went out amongst some foreigners who were in Israel and began worshiping other gods.  The priests warned Solomon not to continue, Jeriboham warned him not to continue, but Solomon continued anyways.  It eventually got so bad that Jeriboham resigned in protest.  On his way back to his tribe, Jeriboham was met by a prophet of God who told him that when Solomon died, God would give Solomon’s son one chance, but if he did not use it well then God would take the kingdom away and give 11 of the tribes to Jeriboham.  The tribe of Judea would remain loyal to Solomon’s son.  When Solomon heard of this, he ordered Jeriboham killed.  Jeriboham fled to Egypt until he heard of Solomon’s passing.  He then returned and demanded that Solomon’s son end the forced labor and reduce the taxes.  Not wanting to look weak, Solomon’s son said he would raise the taxes and use even more forced labor.  Jeriboham then asked the people who they would follow, and all but the tribe of Judea chose to follow Jeriboham.

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

  1. If you receive an extremely difficult task from your spiritual guide (internally or externally), if you rely sincerely you will accomplish the task you have been given.  Solomon was asked to build a temple, and in those days that took an entire nation to do.  But through his reliance, Solomon succeeded.    Ancient Israel had a temple project.   We have the International Temples Project.  Venerable Geshe-la wants us to bring the Kadam Dharma to the whole world and build a temple in every major city of the world.  This is the external project he has given us, and like Solomon if we rely upon our Spiritual Guide, we will be led to complete his vision for Kadampa temples in this world.  He also wants Kadampa schools all over the world.  Until this vision is accomplished, like Solomon we should dedicate ourselves to the project of building these temples.
  2. After we complete major tasks, our job remains to serve the divine.  After the temple was completed, Solomon’s job was to rule wisely over the kingdom.  In the same way, at various points in our spiritual path we will be called on to complete certain external tasks, such as build up a Dharma center or even build a temple at a KMC.  Once these physical tasks are complete, our job is to to then manage the spiritual community we have built wisely in accordance with the teachings of our tradition.
  3. Societies are best ruled by wisdom, not force.  Everybody knows wisdom when they hear it, and the renown of wise communities spreads naturally.  Those who have administrative power should be very mindful to use their power with wisdom, and to not try bring about outcomes through the force of their position.  Instead, they should take the time to explain the wisdom of their decisions to those in the community so that the people of the community can come to appreciate the wisdom and assent to the decision as wise.  With the assent of the community, force is never necessary.  If we are an Administrative Director or Resident Teacher of a center, we can ask ourselves whether or not we use the force of our position to get our way?  Sometimes this may be necessary in small doses on important issues that there is simply not time for everyone in the community to come to understand, but it is rare that this happens.  At certain existential times, Venerable Geshe-la has had to be wrathful to make it clear to those in the tradition that sometimes we just need to go along with his wishes even if we don’t immediately understand why.  But this happens only rarely and we accept it only because for all other times we are governed by seeing the wisdom of the rules we abide by.
  4. One of the most difficult parts of “ruling wisely” is managing the relationship with other traditions.  Israel was a trading nation, so Solomon allowed foreigners to worship their Gods in Israel.  But from his side, he only followed his own.  This was a perfect example, he followed one tradition purely without mixing, but he respected all other traditions as valid for others.  But in his depression at the departure of the Queen of Sheeba, he started to mix religions together, practicing several different ones simultaneously.  He did this because he thought it was a deeper form of wisdom and a higher form of spiritual tolerance.  But because he did so, it triggered sectarianism and fundamentalist attitudes within the Israelites, and they started no longer tolerating other religions in Israel.  Then, because he continued to do so even more after this, he lost the love and support of his people and lost his kingdom.  If we check, this is exactly the story of the Dalai Lama/Dorje Shugden issue.  In the old days, everybody followed their own tradition purely without mixing while respecting all of the other traditions.  After the Tibetans were kicked out of Tibet, the Dalai Lama tried to mix together all of the different traditions, practicing from each and calling all those who did not follow his way as being intolerant.  This provoked sectarian attitudes amongst some of his followers who then persecuted those who did not follow his new way.  As a result, he engaged in all sorts of harmful actions and wound up creating a schism in the Sangha.  The correct way of approaching the relationship with other traditions is to in our own practice follow one tradition purely without mixing while respecting all other paths as being valid for those who follow them.  This is a fundamental point within our tradition, and one that often gives rise to much confusion.  It is beyond the scope of this blog post to discuss this topic in detail, so instead I include a link to a document I once wrote explaining the rationale for why we follow one tradition purely without mixing while respecting all other traditions.  Following one tradition purely without mixing.
  5. Attachment can blind us to what is important and even cause us to abandon the path.  Solomon was extremely attached to the Queen of Sheeba.  The depression that followed her departure made him lose his path and he started mixing many different traditions together, even though he received some clear warnings directly from his priests, his closest advisor Jeriboham and even God himself.  There are many many examples across all sorts of spiritual traditions where sexual attachment causes even the highest spiritual leaders to fall.  Within our own tradition, we too have several very high profile examples of this.  Gen-la Dekyong said at the Summer Festival last year that it looks like within our tradition that there is positive discrimination towards women since women occupy all of the most important posts within the tradition.  She asked rhetorically, “what happened to all of the guys?  Come on guys, you can do it.”  Now she was trying to make a joke, and everybody did laugh, but for those who know the history this was a joke with double meaning.  Sexual attachment kills more spiritual lives than probably any other delusion, or at least it does so in the most dramatic of ways.

Of course there is much additional meaning, but these are the main conclusions that I draw from the story.

My Kadampa understanding of the bible: The story of David

The story of David is as follows:  The tribes of Israel were fragmented, so they prayed to have a King of all of Israel.  God spoke to the Prophet Samuel to say that Saul was to be king.  Samuel then annointed Saul king and told Saul that if he obeys the commandements of God, his Kingdom will be established and his house will last forever.  Saul then mostly listened to God’s commandements, had great successes, but he didn’t follow the commandements exactly for what seemed to him to be valid reasons.  Seeing that Saul could not obey perfectly, God withdrew his support of Saul and told Samuel to annoint another.  Saul remained King, though, as there was noone to depose him.  God told Samuel to annoint a small shepherd boy named David as King.  David was very dedicated to God and sincere of heart, and so God saw within him the qualities of being a King.  Not saying he was the new annointed one, David went to Saul and joined his army to serve.  When the giant Goliath was terrorizing the countryside, even though David was still just a boy, he managed to kill Goliath with his sling shot.  David then became very famous with the army and led them to many victories.  Saul came to realize that David was God’s new chosen King, became jealous, and even though David never did anything against Saul, Saul plotted to have David killed.  David escaped, the army proved loyal to David, and Saul and his supporters were eventually wiped out by the Philistines.  The crown then came to David.

David then captured Jeruselem without destroying it (by cutting off its water).  In Jeurselem, David fell in love with a woman who was the wife of one of his soldiers, got her pregnant, and then when he couldn’t cover it up had the soldier sent to where he would surely die in battle.  Nathanial, the prophet after Samuel, told David that God was very displeased, their child would die and evil would rise up in David’s house.  Later, one of David’s sons raped one of his daughters, and David banished him but did not kill him because he said the covenant between a father and son prevents such things.  Another son thought David was weak for not killing the rapist, so he did so instead.  David then banished that son, who subsequently plotted to take over in a coup.  Realizing he was outnumbered, instead of fighting him and Jeruselem being destroyed, David left Jeruselem to go find supporters.  He crossed the Jordon river, found supporters and waited for the usurper son to come and get him.  David’s army then defeated them and David returned to Jeruselem.  David’s dream had always been to build a temple for the Arc of the Covenant, but God said that David had spilt too much blood in his life to build the temple, but that his son Solomon would do so. 

How can we understand this story from a Kadampa perspective:

  1. Our success in our endeavors is entirely dependent upon how fully we accomplish all of our deeds through total reliance upon the divine.  With perfect faithful reliance, all of our actions will be perfect because they are inspired by omniscience and blessed by all of the holy beings.  Any deviation from this, and things will quickly fall apart as they did for Saul. 
  2. Through faithful reliance, even small boys can accomplish anything and rise to be a king.  David was not some massive warrior, but instead a scrawny boy, yet despite this he defeated Goliath and became a great general.  He would say all through the power of reliance.
  3. David had no ill intent towards Saul, and in fact helped him in every way he could.  First by dispelling some demons with his harp playing and by telling Saul the prayer of “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  This is a magnificint prayer.  David did not plot to get the crown, rather he simply proved himself, Saul lost the crown and it came to David.  This is an important example because many people can quickly become spiritually ambitious within religious institutions and plot to take over for what they feel to be valid reasons.  But a true leader serves others, and through that service naturally becomes a leader through being given leadership. 
  4. Once David became King, he lost his way and committed adultry and murder.  This cost him dearly.  In the Bible it is presented as punishment, but from a Kadampa perspective this is just how karma works.  Negative minds and negative actions activate negative karmic seeds on our mind, which ripen in the form of suffering.  There is no external being punishing us, but it is still a fairly accurate metaphor for describing what seems to be the dynamic.  It was only by returning to be true to God that David eventually won his crown back.
  5. If our motivation is completely pure, then even if we engage in what would normally be considered very negative actions we do not accumulate negative karma.  The time of David must have been a brutal time, and to survive required defeating those who wanted to destroy you.  David had to kill many people, either directly or indirectly, but his motivation was following purely the word of God for the sake of building a Kingdom and home for God in Jeruselem.  As such, his extensive actions of killing in the name of building the Kingdom were apparently not negative.  But when he selfishly stole a man’s wife and had him killed, this was purely negative and resulted in great suffering.  It is the same in the Dharma.  If our motivation and faith are genuine and pure, it is sometimes necessary to engage in what would otherwise be negative actions, but these actions will not in fact be negative but will be pure.  For example, when a previous incarnation of Buddha Shakyamuni killed the one sailor to save the 100 others.  But we need to be very careful with this that we don’t use it as an excuse to rationalize our negativity.
  6. Even though it was his dream to do so, David could not build the temple because of all that he had done.  But he did create the conditions for it to happen and his son was able to do so.  This is not unlike Moses who was able to bring his people to the promised land, but not enter it himself.  There is a powerful lesson in this, namely to not do what is right for reward in this life because that makes our actions worldly.  We should be happy for others to get the glory and instead be happy for ourselves to do the hard work that nobody else can do.

My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: The story of Moses

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?

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.