(Discussion of the Akeidah continues from the previous post.)                            

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Avraham’s obedience in the Akeidah demonstrates the counterbalance — the “therapy,” as it were — for the disobedience of Adam & Havah in Gan Eden.

As such, it has become the essence of all 3 “Avrahamic” faiths:” Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  In fact, they’re called “Avrahamic” entirely on the basis of the obedience Avraham showed in the “Akeidah.”  Whatever our other differences, in this we are precisely the same, deriving our essential character from the same source. 

Yeshu, whom the world calls “Jesus,” taught Avraham’s obedience in the “Our Father,” as the necessary foundation of prayer: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” [2] Later, in Gethsemane, he demonstrates this same obedience in his own prayer: “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet, not my will, but Yours, be done.” [3] In a similar spirit, St. Therese of Lisieux wrote: “I see that it is enough to realize one’s nothingness, and give oneself wholly, like a child, into the arms of the good G-d.” [4] One could imagine both Avraham and Yitzhak feeling and saying the same. 

Islam, too, finds its very definition in Avraham’s act of obedience, as the Qur’an says: “…[Avraham] was true in Faith, and bowed his will to G-d’s (which [submission] is Islam)…” [5] Each year, on the 10th day of the 12th month of the Muslim calendar, many Muslims celebrate “Id al-Adha” by sacrificing an animal in commemoration of the Akeidah. Although post-Qur’anic Islam identifies Ishmael, rather than Yitzhak, as the bound son, and Mecca, rather than Jerusalem, as the site of the Akeidah, such differences seem almost picayune when compared with the magnitude of Avraham’s victory over “self.”

If Avraham was a “banner” to be emulated by all people, then all people must be capable of the same self-surrender.  What, then, of non-“Avrahamic” faiths? If such surrender is a universal human potential, has it also been known, even honored, in other places and times than Torah’s?

In Yoga teaching, it is the basis of Bhakti (devotional) Yoga:

“So Isvara pranidhanam or devotion to the all-knowing Isvara is another method for obtaining samadhi…Just surrender yourself to Him, saying ‘I am Thine; all is Thine; Thy Will be done’.” The moment you have resigned yourself completely, you have transcended your own ego…Union with G-d is the real Yoga…There is no difference between religion and Yoga. Yoga is the basis of all religions.” [6]

“The moment you’ve resigned yourself completely, you have transcended your own ego…” We can see this not only in Avraham and his son Yitzhak, but in Avraham’s servant Eliezer, as well. Avraham had utterly surrendered himself to G-d; Eliezer, surrendering his will to his spiritual teacher Avraham, ultimately surrenders himself to the Presence of his master’s G-d. His very name, “Eliezer (“G-d is my help”),” understood in the context of his being Avraham’s disciple, means: “G-d is my only help; I surrender my will and my self completely.” Sent on a journey by Avraham to secure a wife for Yitzhak, Eliezer silently prays: “…show kindness to my master, Avraham.” [7] He doesn’t ask G-d to help him. Instead, he asks G-d to help Avraham! No “self” is mentioned, at all – because for Eliezer, as for Avraham and Yitzhak, no perception of “a self separate from G-d” exists for him any longer – precisely as Swami Satchidananda says.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, the hero, must choose between either fighting to uphold the rightful claimant to the throne of India, thereby killing many of his own friends, relatives, even teachers or, by not fighting in a righteous cause, allowing the forces of unrighteousness and evil to dominate the earth. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s commentary declares that Arjuna must transcend his lower self: “Nistraigunya bhavarjuna” – “Be without the 3 gunas [the three modes of all material nature – becoming; lasting; decaying] .” [8]  Then, he can act from the highest spiritual level: “Yogastah kuru karmani” – “Established in Being, perform action .” [9] Established on a level beyond material nature, he can act without the interference, or the implication, of personal motives.  His actions, arising from the same plane of reality as the words of the Biblical prophets, can only be the true Divine response to presenting conditions. Arjuna, like Avraham and Eliezer, can and must act with surrender to the Divine by selfless obedience, if, through union with the Divine, he is to act with righteousness, and without sin.  It’s not merely “action;” it’s a higher state of awareness, or consciousness.

Zen, too, in a very different idiom, captures the struggle that we must face to accept the “Undeniable,” to “surrender to what is,” just as Avraham  would not – could not – deny the reality of G-d, Who was commanding him. Sengai, a Zen master and poet, wrote:

To see or not —
Choose!
Yet,
the Autumn moon
shines.

 A denial of Reality does not change Reality.  If we choose to deny it – to “disobey” its workings – we only succeed in creating our own ignorance and, ultimately, suffering.

Such is the substance of Avraham’s obedience: He didn’t submit in fear to something capricious.  Rather, he knew that to disobey would be to deny what is; to sever his connection with it.

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A midrash (commentary) on “Pirkei Avot” taught: “Be like a bottle that has no opening to let in air [or water].” [11] An empty, sealed bottle will remain afloat, even on the most turbulent seas, because it is empty, it has no weight; being sealed, it lets in no water that could cause it to sink.  It goes up and down with the waves; “surrendering” to them. Just so should we respond to the “ups and downs” of life – by acknowledging their Divine source, by being “empty” of “self,” by obedience, by surrender, with no opposition.

Even modern secular literature lauds this surrender. In “Casablanca,” in one of the most touching scenes in movie history, “Rick” (Humphrey Bogart’s character), having reunited with the love of his life, “Ilsa” (Ingrid Bergman’s character), realizes that he must now “surrender” that love forever, for the greater good of defeating the Nazis [12]: “Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of…the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” [13] To get to this point, he surrenders his own will; transcends his “self.” In doing so, his bitterness and self-interest are transformed into a profound, serene sense of duty to something larger than himself.

We face something “greater than ourselves,” too, every day, in large events and small ones; large decisions and small ones.

On Rosh ha-Shanah, we “declare” G-d to be “King.” “Declare” here means “recognize,” not  “appoint.” “To see or not — Choose!” G-d is “something more than ourselves,” whether we recognize it or not.  Avraham did, when told to sacrifice his son. So did Yitzhak, Eliezer and Arjuna.

We must, too, if we would be and do our best.

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[1] design by Eli Mallon; c. 2007
[2] Matthew 6:10; Luke 11:2
[3] Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:35
 [4] in a letter to Maurice Bellière, quoted in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Th%C3%A9r%C3%A8se_of_Lisieux
 [5] 3:67 
 [6] Swami Satchidananda; Integral Yoga; The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali; p. 48  (on 1:26)
 [7] Ber./Gen. 24:13
 [8] Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; On the Bhagavad Gita; 2:45 (p. 126) 
 [9] ibid.; 2:48 (p. 135)
[10] design c. 2003 by Eli Mallon 
[11] Avot d’Rabbi Natan 41:11
[12] Allegorically, “Nazis” can represent the same world-threatening evil that Duryo-dhana and his army represent in the Bhagavad Gita. “Rick” comes to see that fighting evil is more important than romantic love and personal happiness (even the self-indul-gent happiness of bitterness) — two otherwise overriding values in Western culture. Therein is his “transcendence;” his surrender of “self.”
[13] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Casablanca_(film)