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.

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?

My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: The story of Jacob

Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Esau and Jacob as twins.  Esau was the first born, he was strong and a hunter.  Jacob was born second, and was quieter and looked after the people.  God came to Rebecca, Esau and Jacob’s mother, and said that Jacob was to carry on the lineage, but since he was second born, it would normally pass to Esau.  Jacob used Esau’s pride to get him to offer his entire inheritance as first born to Jacob for a bowl of porridge.  Later, when Isaac was about to die, he intended to give to Esau the spiritual blessing of the lineage.  But Rebecca convinced Jacob that the blessing was to be his, so she encouraged him to trick Isaac into giving the blessing to Jacob instead by Jacob pretending to be Esau and asking for the blessing.  Jacob did so, and Isaac gave him the blessing.  When Esau found out, he vowed to kill Jacob once Isaac died.  Isaac said that God allowed the blessing to pass to Jacob, so it was his will, so he sent Jacob away with a large ransom for a bride, telling him to go to Rebecca’s brother Laben and marry one of his daughters.  Jacob fled, and along the way one of Esau’s men stole the ransom so Jacob arrived at his uncle’s empty handed.  In the desert, God came to Jacob, showed him the stairs to heaven, and promised him that if Jacob relied upon God he would deliver him back to the land promised to Abraham.  When Jacob arrived at Laben’s, he met Rachel, Laben’s second daughter, and instantly fell in love.  When Jacob explained to Laben that he was sent to marry one of his daughters, Laben said that if Jacob stayed for 7 years he could earn a ransom for Rachel.  Jacob stayed for seven years and everything he touched flourished, making Laben rich.  Laben did not want Jacob to leave because he feared if he did so, all of the prosperity would leave as well.  So he tricked Jacob into marrying his first daughter, Leah, by having her pretend to be Rachel on the wedding night.  After he had lay with her, Jacob realized what had happened and viewed it as punishment for his own deception of his father.  Laben said that if Jacob stayed for another 7 years he could earn a ransom for Rachel and then leave with both wives.  Jacob agreed, had many children with Leah and then finally one with Rachel named Joseph.  Because Jacob loved Rachel most, he knew Joseph would be next in the lineage.  Knowing Laben would not let him leave, Jacob waited until Laben went out with his flocks for several days and then Jacob and his family fled.  When Laben came back and realized Jacob had left, he went after him to kill him.  But when he arrived he could not and he made peace with Jacob.  Then Jacob continued further into his brother’s lands.  When Esau heard of this, he went out with an armed party to kill Jacob.  Before they arrived, Jacob went out into the desert and God said that he would be protected and that he is no longer Jacob but will be called Israel.  The next day, when Esau arrived, he too could not kill Jacob because he was his brother.  His brother offered for Jacob to join him, but Jacob knew that each was to found a great nation and if they were to be together there would be only strife so he set out elsewhere and started his own camp.  The rest is in the story of Joseph which I will do next.

As a Kadampa, what does this story mean to me?  What does it reveal about the Kadampa path?

  1. Deception, even in the name of serving a higher purpose, still carries a karmic price.  Jacob’s motivation for deceiving his father was based part on a pure wish to carry on the lineage and part on impure motivations.  Because most of his motivation was pure, the lineage passed to him even though it was through a deception, but for the extent that his motivation was impure he later paid a high karmic price by first having his things stolen, then having to work seven years, then being deceived by Laben, then having to work another seven years, and then having both Laben and Esau wanting to kill him.  If our motivation is completely pure, then we can engage in negative actions of body and speech without negative karmic effect, but if our motivation is mixed then we will still suffer negative karmic consequences even if the majority of our motivation is pure.
  2. If everything you do is pure, everything you touch will flourish.  This is a theme that comes up again in the story of Joseph.  Because Jacob’s every action was motivated by his faith in God, everything he did was pure, so everything he touched flourished.  As Kadampas, we can understand this through understanding how karma works.  Negative actions produce negative experiences, virtuous actions produce virtuous experiences and pure actions produce pure experiences.  This is simply the law of karma.  Faith is a naturally pure mind (because its observed object is by nature pure), so any action motivated by pure faith will necessarily be pure.  According to the laws of karma, it is definite that all the fruits of such actions will likewise be pure.
  3. It seems the lineage within the Judeo-Christian traditions passed through who the child of the woman the lineage holder loved the most, not necessarily the first born.  Again, this is a theme that comes up again and again.  Isaac was chosen over Ishmael, Jacob was chosen by God, but then Joseph was chosen over his brothers because he was born of Rachel, whom Jacob loved most.  This makes sense when we understand how a being is reborn.  The mind from the previous life circles when the parents are copulating.  If the action of copulating is surrounded by love and virtue, it will attract a pure being into the womb.
  4. Jacob could not be harmed by either Laben or Esau because you cannot harm somebody who loved you and he enjoyed the protection of God.  In the Kadampa teachings, we have the story of Buddha who could not be harmed by evil spirits because he loved them.  The spirits saw this was genuine and could not harm him.  Likewise, because Jacob’s refuge was pure, he enjoyed protection against harm from humans and non-humans.  This is one of the benefits of going for refuge purely.  So even though both Laben and Esau came to kill him, neither could.
  5. Israel (Jacob renamed) said that he would build a peaceful nation that would be a lamp for all.  He made peace with his enemies and atoned for his sins.  He worked for all of his success, rebuilding from nothing many times, showing not the path of entitlement but of merit.  In the same way, as Kadampas we make peace with our enemies and purify our negativities.  We work for our success, often having to start over from scratch many times in our life, showing that the spiritual path is build on individual merit.

My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: The story of Abraham

The story of Abraham is by far one of the most important stories in the Bible.  Three of the world’s major religions emerge from Abraham’s family, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  From a spiritual point of view, he is the father of these three great civilizations.  How he and his family responded to the challenges they faced set the pattern for how all the Abrahamic religions respond to the challenges they face.  Given what all has evolved over the millenia from his original example, it is worthwhile to appreciate his story.  As Kadampas, understanding his story will profoundly help us in understanding the spiritual edifice upon which Western and Islamic civilization was built.  Understanding his story from a Kadampa point of view, therefore, will help us transform the life of somebody within Western and Islamic civilization into the Kadampa path.  We do not do so to convert others to Kadampa Buddhism, but rather to help those Kadampas who have found themselves reborn in such civilizations to transform more thoroughly their new reality into the Kadampa path.

For those unfamiliar with the story of Abraham, here is a brief account of the main points (according to my understanding):  Abraham lived about 4,000 years ago.  He was supposedly a descendent of Noah.  He lived at a time in which the people worshipped all sorts of worldly gods (gods which granted worldly favors, such as wealth and greater fertility).  His wife was barren, which in those days was a big problem since everything you had passed to your first born son.  Abraham himself was the first son of a modestly successful shepparding tribe.  They were badly mistreated by the local king who demanded too much in taxes/tribute.  None of the worldly gods “spoke” to him, and one day he smashed all of his brother’s statues of these worldly gods declaring them all false and lies.  Later, a “new God”, one understood as “the God most high” spoke to him and told him to leave his family and he would be led to the promised land.  This experience so marked Abraham that he left his family with his wife, personal servants and livestock and allowed himself to be guided by his new god.  Abraham was the first to commune with this God and this marked the beginning of monotheism.  This god led him to Canan, modern day Israel, and said this is his promised land to be held by his descendents forever.  (This helps explain the importance of this area of the world for Chirstians, Jews and Muslims.  All are children of Abraham, but they still struggle to learn how to share the land freely and harmoniously as his children.)  But the Canans were already there, and while he could have waged war to seize the land he did not want to do things that way, so they left and were guided to Egypt.  In Egypt, his wife was kidnapped by the Pharoh to be one of his wives.  The Pharoh and the other Egyptians got some disease which they took to be a curse from Abraham’s God, and the Pharoh set the wife free on condition that Abraham leave Egypt.  He did so, went back to Canan, and reached an agreement with the Canans on sharing the land and allying with one another.  Then God said he would give Abraham “a son of his own flesh.”  Abraham’s wife then proposed that an Egyptian servant girl bear the child, but be born on Abraham’s wife’s lap (which according to their customs made the child Abraham’s wife).  After becoming pregnant, the servant girl felt herself to be the mother and started asserting more rights.  These rights were denied per the customs of Abraham’s family, she then ran away while pregnant.  One of God’s angels, who I presume to be Gabriel, came to her, told her to go back, submit to Abraham’s wife and that her son would be the father of a great nation and he should be named Ishmael.  She then went back, had Ishmael, who then grew up to be a strong and natural leader.  Later God told Abraham that he would have a son with his barren wife (which was biologically impossible becasue she was too old at the time) and that he would be the father of nations (plural).  God said the son would be called Isaac.  After Isaac was born, Abraham, who was getting older, invested all of his time in training Isaac to be able to take over the tribe.  Ishmael’s biological mother grew jealous and Abraham’s wife feared she would plot to have Ishmael take over the tribe, so she encouraged Abraham to expel Ishmael from the family.  Abraham felt that the reason why he had this problem was because he had not had sufficient faith in God when God said he would have a son of his own flesh and that was why he agreed to have a child with the servant girl.  He decided to follow his wife’s advice, but prayed that God always be with Ishmael and Ishmael set off with his biological mother.  Again, the Angel appeared and told Ishamel’s mother that Ishmael would be the founder of a great nation and led them on their way.  Ishmael became understood as the father of Islamic civilization with the Prophet Mohammed being one of his descendents.  Later, in a test of Abraham’s faith, God told Abraham to sacrifice his only son (normally, they sacrificed lambs).  This was devastating for Abraham, but not wanting to repeat his mistake of a lack of faith in God he agreed and took Isaac up to the mountain to be sacrificed.  Just as Abraham was about to do it, an Angel appeared and said it was basically a test, Abraham had passed and the Angel provided a lamb.  This event was the culmination of the story of Abraham and what he is often most known for.  It is by analogy with this story that we can understand why Jesus is sometimes called “the lamb of God,” his only son, who he sacrificed for the sake his people.  Some say Jesus was himself a descendent of Isaac, and generally the Judeo-Christian world is understood to descend from Isaac.  Throughout the story, there were also various points where God would lead other groups to join Abraham, usually just in time when Abraham needed it most.  Abraham then lived out the rest of his days training Isaac and guiding his tribe as a humble shepparding tribe.

As a Kadampa how do I understand this story and what lessons do I take from it?  How does this story reveal the truth of the Kadam Dharma to me?

  1. Monotheism.  Abraham renounced reliance upon worldly gods for worldly purposes and instead came to rely upon the God most high, a single all-powerful God.  As Kadampa’s, we too need to renounce our worldly gods (who we may not diefy, but we still follow – wealth, reputation, praise, worldly pleasures, etc.).  While there are many different Tantric deities, we are to understand them all to be the same nature, the Dharmakaya, the eternal definitive Spiritual Guide.  We view the different tantric deities as manifestations or facets of a single source.  Sometimes Buddhists are understood to be polytheists, but we Kadampas understand ourselves as monotheists who understand their ultimate object of refuge to have the ability to assume many conventional forms according to the different needs of living beings.  Some Buddhists fall into the extreme of thinking the Dharmakaya is just a state of nature and not a being so they de-deify the ultimate.  As Kadampas, we understand the Dharmakaya to be being, whose omniscient mind of great bliss is at one with a realization of how things truly are (empty), and that this Dharmkaya assumes the aspect of infinite forms according to the needs and dispositions of living beings.  These aspects or emanations are simply the shape the underlying Dharmakaya assumes, but are not separate from it (like waves are not separate from the ocean).  As Kadampas, I believe we can understand Abraham’s God as how the Dharmakaya revealed itself to Abraham according to the karmic dispositions of the beings at that time and for all those who descended from him and the nations he spawned.
  2. Total faith and reliance.  Abraham was considered one of the first prophets, namely somebody who had the ability to communicate directly with God.  As Kadampas, this is also an ability we can and need to cultivate – the ability to receive perfectly reliable inner guidance from the ultimate, the definitive Spiritual Guide, the Dharmakaya.  Venerable Geshe-la explains that to do so we need to first align our motivation perfectly with that of the definitive Spiritual Guide, then generate indestructible faith, and then on that basis make our ordinary mind completely silent and still.  In this stillness, with a perfectly aligned motivation and faith, we then request guidance and hold our pure wish for such guidance with a still, well-motivated faithful mind.  If we do so, gradually a vision, insight or plan will be revealed to us.  This will be our message.  The more we align our motivation, deepen our faith and make still our ordinary mind the more reliably and clearly we will receive guidance.  We see this in the story of Abraham – he would receive visions and messages, follow them, they would seem crazy at first but later be revealed as reliable in unforseen ways, and then he would receive a new, deeper, more vast vision with even more demanding tests of his faith.  This process culminated in the ultimate test of all, his willingness to sacrifice his only son and heir in the name of his faith.  By no means is this to mean we should sacrifice our children for the Buddhas!  But we can nonetheless be inspired by a mind that is willing to sacrifice that which is held most dear for the sake of their faith, and that by doing so, no matter how crazy it may seem, in the end ultimate sources of refuge are perfectly reliable and will never lead us astray.  Venerable Tharchin said in his 30+ years with Venerable Geshe-la, there has almost never been a time when Venerable Geshe-la would propose some crazy course of action and Venerable Tharchin would not think Geshe-la is nuts!  But he would follow and over time it became clear that Geshe-la was right all along but in ways unforseeable.  When this happens to us again and again, our faith and reliance grows and we are gradually led along the path until we eventually complete it.
  3. “The Lord shall provide.”  There were many points in the story where God would lead Abraham to do things that made no sense from a worldly point of view, requiring them to leave behind what was good from a worldly point of view for the sake of their faith.  Each time they would do so things would get much worse and they would be at the point of total desperation, face doubts about whether they had done the right thing to follow, then just as things were at their darkest they would have some final test of faith where they would perservere with their faith and then something miraculous would happen where they were provided for.  For Kadampas, this too happens all of the time.  Disaster may strike our life, we may feel we have been abandoned, our faith gets tested, we perservere and eventually we come to realize how what we thought was a disaster was in fact the best thing that ever happened to us, always spiritually but sometimes even externally.  The Dharma Protector, Dorje Shugden, accomplishes this function for us.  By surrendering our karma completely to him, we can have total faith that no matter what happens to us it is what is best for us.  By holding onto this faith, no matter how bleak and dark things may seem, we will eventually come to realize how this is so.  It begins with small things and small tests of faith, but gradually grows into larger and larger things with more and more challenging tests of faith, but each time we take a leap of faith we are always caught and carried to a higher plane.  Externally, we should not be extreme about this doing completely crazy things, but if we work gradually and comfortably within the karma that is ripening, we will eventually be led in similar ways.  From this experience comes a fearlessness with which we follow the path – a mind of fearless spiritual adventure.
  4. There is nothing more important than passing on the lineage.  Once Isaac was born, Abraham dropped almost everything and poured himself into training his son to carry on the lineage.  It is not enough to have the lineage written down, it needs to be fully realized by subsequent generations to continue on.  There is much that Kadampas do to serve the world, but no activity we do is more important than forming new teachers to carry on the lineage.  If we have the karma to be a teacher, we should pour every ounce of our being into becoming a qualified one that has personal experience of the truth and reliability of the teachings.  If we do not have the karma to be a teacher, we should use our karma to support those who do have such karma as our way of contributing to the carrying on of the lineage.  Ultimately, Venerable Geshe-la said we are all lineage holders just in different ways.  So really, we should all do both of these – become as personally qualified as we can and support others doing the same as much as we can.  Just one last note, Abraham’s insistence of passing the lineage on to his biological son simply reflected how legitimacy was culturally bestowed at that time.  Nowadays, legitimacy is bestowed through democratic legitimacy (peopel freely choosing to follow and rely) and individual merit (realizations and deeds).  Different cultures will have different methods of bestowing legitimacy and these methods should not be confused as being spiritually written in stone – rather they are merely cultural.  What matters is a legitimate passing of a qualified lineage.

There is much, much more to be said about this story.  Feel free to include comments on your own contemplations and reflections of what Kadampa truths this story reveals to you.


My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: Genesis

Conventionally, the story of genesis says first God created the heavens and earth in 7 days.  Then he created the Garden of Eden for Adam.  He then created Eve out of Adam.  God said Adam and Eve could enjoy all the purity in the Garden except the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  If they ate that, they would fall.  The serpent, the most subtle of God’s creations, tricked Eve into taking the fruit of the tree of knowledge saying it would set her free to become just like God.  But if you eat contaminated fruit, you will naturally experience contaminated results.  Grasping now at inherently good and evil, we begin to become attached to what we impute to be good and averse to what we impute to be evil.  We then begin clutching at some things and fearing others.  From this emerge exploitation and violence.  From this emerges a world of suffering.  In Genesis, after being expelled from the Garden due to eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve have two children, Cain and Able.  Cain becomes a farmer and Able becomes a shepherd.  Cain makes produce offerings to God, Able makes an offering of his finest lamb.  God prefers Able’s offering, Cain becomes jealous and kills Able.  As a result, Cain’s suffering multiplies seven-fold as he spawns a world of suffering and violence.  Eventually somebody comes to kill Cain, and the suffering of the world multiplies seven fold further.  Adam and Eve then have a third child named Seth, one that is good and follows God.  There is then a series of generations from this lineage until eventually we get to Noah.  At this time, God looks at the earth and sees all the wickedness that emerged from Cain’s world but then sees Noah as the one good man following God.  God then tells Noah that he regrets having created human’s outside of the Garden, and says he is going to exterminate all of creation except Noah who he will save with all those that travel with him, including the animals.  God tells Noah to build an arc so that he may be saved.  Noah does so, gathers his family and the animals, and then the rains start which flood the earth killing all of creation.  The arc floats away safely, after a long time the waters recede, the earth reappears and Noah then sets out to populate the earth.  From this perspective we are all progeny of Noah who is in turn progeny of Seth.

How can a Kadampa understand this? 

  1. First, a quick note on the 7 days because people can sometimes dismiss the whole thing because they believe the earth was created over a period of billions of years worth of evolution.  Time in the God realms moves more slowly than time in the human realm.  It is perfectly possible that from the perspective of humans, it evolved over billions of human years, but from the perspective of those in the God realms it took only 7 God days.  What happens on each of the seven days follows the sequence of evolution, so there is no contradiction.  Further, when we understand emptiness, whole universes are created and destroyed in an instant.  When the ripened effect ripens, it produces entire world systems instantaneously, complete with a lengthy past.  For example, we have all had dreams where the dream world came complete with an infinite past and an infinite future, yet in reality the dream just emerged from emptiness with a mentally constructed past and future.  So there is not necessarily a contradiction here.
  2. Within Genesis, out of nothingness (black near attainment of reverse order) began the emergence of subtle appearances in 7 stages (the remaining stages of increasingly gross appearance until we reach the normal waking world).  At one point, God started naming things and thereby they came into existence (objects are nothing other than mere name). 
  3. According to Kadampa Buddhism, mind is the creator of all, so our root mind is God and God is our root mind.  But when we ignorantly grasp at things not being of God (meaning not created by our mind), we eat contaminated fruit and fall into a contaminated world.  We then begin grasping at some things being inherently good and other things being inherently bad (as opposed to their alternative of everything equally being completely pure creations (emanations) of God).  From this grasping at good and bad come attachment to what is considered good and anger towards what is considered bad.  From this all other delusions arise, such as the jealousy of Cain that killed Able.  From Cain’s deluded acts emerge increasingly violent and miserable worlds of suffering until eventually the beings caught up in that world cease to appear in the human world at all (Noah’s story), they have been consumed by the effects of their negative actions (metaphorically understood to be the wrath of God wiping them out) and fell into the lower realms out of karmic sight.
  4. If in contrast, if we believe that everything is the creation of God, or in Kadampa terms, if you believe everything is an emanation of the definitive Spiritual Guide, the Dharmakaya, then everything functions for us differently.  Everything becomes a perfectly pure gift of God (emanated by the Spiritual Guide for our enlightenment).  Instead of everything dragging us towards the pits of hell, everything draws us up to become one with God (gather and purify all phenomena into the complete purity of the Dharmakaya).
  5. Just as there is a “Tale of Two Cities” so too there is a tale of two worlds.  It is our own mind that made mistakes, and because we started following and assenting to contaminated appearances, we develop self-cherishing and other delusions which created a dream world of suffering not only for ourself but for all of the beings in our dream.  We created samsara with our mind of grasping, we take responsibility for the world of suffering we have created.  Then, like God in Genesis, we regret having created a world of suffering and we decide to uncreate it and instead start anew with only goodness and only those following God (relying upon the definitive Spiritual Guide). 
  6. Genesis says everything was created by God.  Believing this enables us to see everything as pure.  This pure view then ripens us into a being who likewise creates pure worlds.  There is a branch of Christianity called “creation spirituality”, which believes pure creation is a continuous and eternal process which we celebrate in.  A Tantric practitioner does precisely this – they take delight in creating pure worlds through the power of their compassion and wisdom realizing emptiness.

My Kadampa understanding of the Bible: Motivation

The heart commitment of Dorje Shugden, which I consider to be perhaps my deepest commitment of all, is to follow one tradition purely without mixing while respecting all other traditions.  This is a middle way between the extreme of sectarianism, which believes one has a monopoly on the truth and all others must ascribe to your views, and the extreme of having no tradition at all, which believes one has the ability to mix and match different paths into own’s own personal religion.  Both extremes are wrong.  There are different ways up the mountain and even if we could forge our own path up the mountain (an unlikely possibility) it is much more sensible to simply take the well-worn path karmically closest to you.

The paradox is it is only by following one’s own tradition purely without mixing that one can gain an appreciation and respect for all other paths as being valid for those who travel them.  It is not mixing to understand all subjects through the lens of one’s own tradition.  Quite the opposite, every subject understood through the lens of one’s own tradition takes our understanding of the truth of our path that much deeper.

The Bible is probably the most important book ever written in Western civilization and its stories also form part of the foundation of the Islamic world.  It has shaped the consciousness of these civilizations for thousands of years.  To understand the Bible through a Kadampa lens, therefore, enables us to understand the cultural, historical, political and spiritual legacy of close to half of the planet.

Likewise, its stories provide powerful and profound illustrations of the truth of the Kadam Dharma.  As Western Kadampas, I consider it part of our responsibility to fully integrate the Dharma into Western civilization to understand how the Bible reveals the truth of the Kadam Dharma.  If we can succeed in this, there is great hope we will likewise be able to understand more deeply how the entire culture we live in in the West likewise reveals the truth of Dharma.  For those who live in the East, having a Kadampa understanding of the Bible will help you to better understand how the Western world and what it does also reveals the truth of Dharma.  From this perspective, I feel it is a worthwhile endeavor to go through the main stories of the Bible and consider them through the lens of the Kadampa teachings so as to be able to derive Kadampa lessons from them.

Likewise, we now have a new Pope, who, as a Jesuit, seems to be a departure from past Popes.  This seems a topical time to consider the stories of the Bible through the lens of the Kadampa.  Finally, of all of the posts I have done so far on this blog, one of the most frequently read has been “In Praise of Jesus!”  Many Kadampas come to the tradition after having previously been Christian, either as practitioners or simply as part of their family life.  Many people mistakenly believe we need to reject Christianity to become a Buddhist.  Not at all.  One of the best parts about being a Kadampa is we have no need to claim a monopoly on the truth.  Because everything is empty, there are many different ways of viewing things.  Each one will work for different people.  So there is no contradiction whatsoever in saying we encourage others to follow their Christian path and we can appreciate its beauty from the perspective of our own path.   For many people, it was their Christian path that brought them to the Kadampa.  It is senseless to reject the boat that brought us to the Island of the Kadam Dharma.  We can be thankful for it, but still understand we have moved on.  We don’t have to reject our past, we simple move beyond it.  If we still grasp at rejecting Christianity as part of our Buddhist understanding, I feel we are creating obstacles which prevent us from fully integrating the Kadam Dharma into our modern world, which is pervaded by Christian values and norms.

Based on this motivation, I will now share my own personal thoughts on the subject.  By no means should this be taken as a definitive account of anything.  Rather this is my own personal attempt to deepen my own understanding.  For me, putting my thoughts into words forces me to be very precise in my thinking.  I view writing as part of my own contemplation of the Dharma.  I hope that it may also prove useful for others.