After listening to Jordan Peterson’s Youtube video, The Great Sacrifice: Abraham and Isaac, I thought to revisit the Essay on Sacrifice written in 2000 and later included in Conscience: Your Ultimate Personal Survival Guide.
My document search stopped at Essay 7 on Authority. Lo. Not coincidentally, I found a quote which puts the Abraham story in larger context. It helps make sense of my approach, which sheds a different but helpful light on biblical traditions:
Christ was one of the greatest mystics of all time. He knew everything that has been ever said in the Eastern traditions.
When Moses asked God, who are you? God said, I AM that I AM.
Christ in the Gospel of John says, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”
The very word Abraham comes from the Eastern word Brahman, which means the primordial being. . . So when you start looking, as paleo-linguistic anthropologists do, at the common roots of the various religions and traditions, you find that it’s all universal. Truth has to be universal. It can’t be your domain or my domain.
In a more popular vein, when I think of sacrifice, trading the lesser for the greater, the Lovin’ Spoonfuls’ tune, Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind, starts humming in my mind:
Did you ever have to make up your mind,
Pick up on one and leave the other behind?
It’s not often easy and not often kind.
Did you ever have to make up your mind?
Did you ever have to finally decide?
Say yes to one and let the other one ride?
There’s so many changes and tears you must hide.
Did you ever have to finally decide?
This is the essence of the life or death choice offered us in Exodus: Choose Life. “Return unto me and I return unto you.” It emphasizes travel on the inward path from surface to center of the Life Wheel, releasing attachments to ephemeral possessions, limited opinions/identities, and outgrown lifestyles.
Looked at this way, sacrifice isn’t necessarily a negative or hurtful experience. It can be positive change: expansive, illuminating, and in the long-term, generative.
Essay 33. SACRIFICE
A balanced relationship between the individual and the whole is achieved through service in the spirit of SACRIFICE. Changing selfishness to compassion and acts of kindness builds bridges of mutual trust. Unselfish giving benefits everyone involved, helping the community to overcome obstacles and dangers. Avoid twin dangers: selfishness and self-denial. — Patricia West, The Common Sense Book of Change
A significant part of the existential suffering of life is the suffering involved in constantly discerning — or choosing — what we are responsible for and what we are not responsible for and maintaining a healthy balance. — M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled & Beyond
The pain of verbal abuse goes deep into the self and festers there. . . Verbal violence all too often goes unrecognized, except at a level that you cannot even understand yourself. You know you are suffering, and you vaguely know where the pain is coming from; but because the aggression is so well hidden, you are likely to blame yourself instead of the aggressor. – Suzette Haden Elgin, The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense
The root of sacrifice means to make sacred. Webster’s first definition is the act of offering the life of a person or animal or some object in propitiation of or homage to a deity. It is the act of giving up, destroying, permitting injury to, or forgoing something valued for the sake of something having a more pressing claim. It can mean selling or giving up of something of less than its supposed value.
The Old Testament story of Abraham and his son Isaac in the mountains of Moriah deserves careful consideration in regard to sacrifice.
It’s about willingness to trade attachment and human love for the sake of fidelity to a higher calling.
It’s about faith that surpasses understanding.
It’s about trading earthly desire to perpetuate one’s life through transmission of genes for the abundant certainty of eternal life.
Abraham was tested to prove his fidelity to the voice of inner conscience, no matter what. The parallel to the life of Jesus is direct. Christ was literally sacrificed, but, paradoxically, like Isaac, lived on, albeit on a higher level.
Pagan sacrifice of children and animals is irrelevant to the meaning of Abraham’s test. At issue is the difference between transcending pain for the sake of higher love versus selfishly destroying life using physical, verbal and/or psychological violence, to get what one wants here on earth.
This distinction is relevant to prosperity courses which flirt with spirituality, but in fact tamper with natural law. In the short term, harnessing aversion to pain and desire for pleasure to get what we want may work. But where’s the wisdom?
Pain and pleasure motivate animals. However, the purpose of I Ching disciplines is to overcome such instinctive reactions. Pavlovian dogs can be trained to react automatically to programmed stimulation.
Humans, however, have the unique ability to reason. By choosing to remain steadfast in commitment and true to higher calling, we realize the priceless opportunity to overcome and transcend reactive pendulum swings of nature — pain and pleasure, attraction and aversion – to fulfill our innermost, innate potentials.
In this way, following the example of Christ, who sacrificed mortal existence for eternal life, we too can change, shifting gears, raising our focus from the material surface of the Life Wheel, then from the deeper emotional level of what we want, to the central core of what IS. This, ultimately, is the purpose of mastering natural change, and the gift which a profound understanding of the I Ching has to offer.
Similarly, working with the meta-reality-map — the Life Wheel — helps articulate, focus and accelerate the self-actualization process. It is KEY to fully understanding the multiple dimensions and meanings of scriptural events.
It’s important to remember, however, that fidelity to calling is the standard. Whether or not one physically lives or dies is irrelevant. Bodhisattvas, for example, are fully-attained beings who have completed their life lessons here, but choose to remain on Earth in order to serve.
We each contain the seed potentials of our most admired leaders.
If we each dig into our own depths and live the promise now by following their examples, then hope could not be extinguished by killing single individuals.
If one person of conscience stands alone, one bullet can demoralize a nation.
If conscience informs the entire community, when one leader is struck down, two, ten or a thousand more come forward to continue on.
This is the fruitfulness promised to descendants of Abraham.
The opposite of sacrifice is attachment. Refusing to let go of outgrown beliefs, or hanging on to people when it’s time to change and move on in order to grow, is antithetical to the life process. Making a show of suffering, imposing obligations and guilt on others for what they’ve been given is false martyrdom.
Slaughter of animals or innocents to atone for one’s own sins is a perversion of sacrifice. It violates the sanctity of life and free will of others. Each of us is accountable for our own actions. Therefore, taking life can’t change bad karma. Instead, it compounds trouble.