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.

In praise of Jesus!

Anybody who knows me well knows that one of the things I take most seriously is the advice to follow one tradition purely without mixing.  The actual instruction is while respecting and appreciating all other traditions, we should follow our own tradition purely without mixing.  This is the middle way between fundamentalism on one hand (only I am right, everyone else is wrong) and inventing your own religion on the other (mixing and matching many different traditions according to your own views).  Both of these are extremes which lead to problems, whereas respecting and appreciating all other traditions while following one’s own tradition purely without mixing leads to harmony and personal spiritual progress.

But sometimes I see Kadampa’s forgetting the first half of this advice to genuinely respect and appreciate other traditions.  Many people who come into Buddhism do so from having been raised in and subsequently rejected Christianity.  Some people come with very hostile views, even, towards Christianity.  Others may have some arrogance thinking that Buddhism is just hipper and smarter because of the teachings on emptiness, so they speak disparagingly and arrogantly towards other religions.  I have done all of these things myself in the past, and all of this is wrong.

Last night I watched a movie on the life of Jesus.  There is an entire DVD collection on the main stories of the bible that won someting like 11 Emmy awards that was really well done, and I watched the one on Jesus.  While I was watching, my daughter came down and was wondering why I, as a Buddhist, was watching something about Jesus.  She thought because I follow one path I am somehow prevented from believing in and appreciating other paths.  She was relieved to know this was not the case because it helps resolve a tension within herself of having lots of Christian family and being raised in Christian cultures, yet I am Buddhist.

So I thought I would write some of the things I really appreciated about the life of Jesus.

  1. He had to do all that he did while being only human.  While being the son of God, he accomplished all of his deeds as a human, with human constraints and limitations.  He had to face the same temptations of lust, power, the opportunity to kick off the Roman oppressors, etc.  He faced the same challenges of people trying to undermine him, dealing with relationships, etc.  He endured all of his sufferings as a man.  This is an inspiring example that if he can do all that he did as a man, then so can we.
  2. He healed through the power of others’ faith.  Very often when he was to perform some miracle, he always asked whether the other person believed.  When they did, then they or their loved ones were healed.  It is not that he had the power from his own side to heal, but the healing occured in dependence upon other’s faith.
  3. At several points in the story, he or others were obliged to expereince some suffering or dificulty to expose their doubts so that others could come to believe.  Examples include him turning water into wine, walking on water to save the disciples on the boat in the storm, Lazarus being raised from the dead, his being crucified to take on the sins of all, and his resurrection to show that he can overcome death.  His power comes primarily from other’s faith in him, so much of what he did was designed to increase others’ faith.  Of course different things work to increase others faith today, but at the time, that was how things were done.
  4. He said “blessed are the poor, for they shall inherit the earth.”  It seems the essence of the Christian way is to identify those in greatest need, those who are the most lost, those who are the most outcast, and to bring them into the fold.  He cared for the poor and the sick, he did not judge the prostitutes or the tax collectors, He said, “he is the way”, and I think this is a large part of what he meant.  He was not afraid to take on the rich and powerful (the temple marketplace, the Jewish establishment at the time, etc.).  It is not surprising that Christianity is dying in Europe but being reborn in Africa and Latin America.  It is a theology that liberates the oppressed and downtrodden, and sadly the powerful have a tendency to hijack religion for their own worldly ends, often giving religion a bad name (when in reality, the fault lies not with the religion but by those who misuse it).
  5. At one point, he asked his followers, “what do you want from God?”  And somebody said, “forgiveness.”  So he said, “then forgive others.”  Then somebody said, “love.”  So he said, “then love others.”  Bascially, whatever we would want from God (however defined) we need to give to others.
  6. He was always quite playful with others, not stuck up and tight; yet he always submitted to the will of God, even when that meant the ultimate price, never putting his own preferences first.  This is an extraordinary subtle balance to attain.
  7. Even though he only taught for a very short period of time, his example and teachings have inspired billions for thousands of years.  Who amongst us can say the same?  Even a very short period of pure deeds by one small man from a destitute family can change the world.
  8. He said he lives in the hearts of men and will be with us until the end of the world.  This is extremely profound and reveals his nature.
  9. He spoke of bringing the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, the pure land is not somewhere else.

Unrelated to his example, I find it interesting that much of world history of the last 2000 years has been driven by a family fued amongst the sons of Abraham.  Jesus emerged from within the Jewish community, yet revitalized it by exposing how it has become corrupted by power.  The Jewish establishment sought compromise with Rome as the means of preventing the people and the temple from being wiped out.  They were not necessarily wrong or corrupt, but didn’t know what else to do.  The relationship between the Jews and Christians has always been an interesting one, sometimes tragic as in the holocaust, sometimes familial as in Western support for Israel.

It will be interesting to see how things evolve as power in the world shifts, for the first time in a very long time, from the Abrahamic nations to the East. Our job as Kadampas is tied up in this process.  I have lived my whole life in the Western world, dominated by Christianity but evolving into a pluralistic society based on the freedom of religions as the resolution of the last 2000 years of conflict.  Yet, internally, I am 100% Kadampa.  So I must fully learn to undertand and appreciate Christian society if I am to live within it as a Kadampa.  Learning how to do this is part of this larger transition the world is going through.

In any case, I think there is much to appreciate and respect in pure Christianity, and coming to appreciate and respect it, while following my own tradition purely without mixing in my own practice, is part of my path.

Your turn:  Explain what inspires you about Jesus or Christians, and how this has helped you become a better Kadampa.