CALL AND AWAKENING
Early in the life of each founder comes the moment when he is
awakened to his special vocation. In the Abrahamic traditions, the
founder is called from the ordinary pursuits of life through a special
appearance of divinity. This call is both a revelation of God and a
challenge to take up a mission. Often, as was true for Moses and
Muhammad, the founder first tried to resist the divine call before he
finally accepted it.
We do not know when Jesus first recognized his special vocation.
The Bible depicts him as predestined from his birth, yet one particular
moment of realization may have come at his baptism at the Jordan River
with the descent of the Spirit.
In India, where countless ascetics strenuously exert themselves on
the path to enlightenment, the founders of Buddhism and Jainism began as
two of the thousands of similar seekers for God. Instead of God coming
down and calling them, as in the West, they strove toward truth and
finally attained it. Nevertheless, in the biographies of the Buddha and
Mahavira we have accounts of their first awakenings. When the young
Buddha, living a sheltered life as a prince, saw suffering in others, he
was distressed, and his sensitive mind was awakened to the quest for
Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and
your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of
you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so
that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him
who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth
shall bless themselves."
Judaism and Christianity. Genesis 12.1-3
A man... was travelling from place to place when he saw a building in
flames. "Is it possible that the building lacks a person to look after
it?" he wondered. The owner of the building looked out and said, "I am
the owner of the building." Similarly, when Abraham our father said, "Is
it conceivable that the world is without a guide?" the Holy One, blessed
be He, looked out and said to him, "I am the Guide, the Sovereign of the
Judaism. Genesis Rabbah 39.1
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the
priest of Midian; and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness,
and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord
appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he
looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses
said, "I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not
burnt." When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him
out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here am I." Then he said,
"Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on
which you are standing is holy ground." And he said, "I am the God of
your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."
And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord said, "I have seen the affliction of my people who
are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I
know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the
hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and
broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the
Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and
the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come
to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress
them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my
people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am
I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?"
He said, "But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that
I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you
shall serve God upon this mountain."
Then Moses said to God, "If I come to the people of Israel and say
to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me,
'What is his name,' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I Am
Who I Am." He said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I Am has sent me
But Moses said to the Lord, "Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either
heretofore or since you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of
speech and of tongue." Then the Lord said to him, "Who has made man's
mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I,
the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you
what you shall speak." But he said, "Oh, my Lord, send, I pray, some
other person." Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and
he said, "Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he
can speak well; and behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees
you he will be glad in his heart. And you shall speak to him and put the
words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and
will teach you what you shall do. He shall speak for you to the people;
and he shall be a mouth for you."
Judaism and Christianity. Exodus 3.1-4.16
Genesis 12.1-3: This is the call of Abraham. In return for following God
into an unknown land, he is promised a three-fold blessing: receiving a
land, becoming a nation, and mediating God's blessing to the world. Cf.
Hebrews 11.8-10, Abot 5.4, p. 612n.; Qur'an 21.71, p. 533. For the call
of Jacob, his vision of the ladder reaching to heaven, see Genesis
28.10-17, p. 100. Genesis Rabbah 39.1: For more traditions on Abraham's
call, see Zohar, Genesis 68a and Qur'an 6.75-79, p. 78. On the world in
flames, see the Buddha's Fire Sermon, Samyutta Nikaya xxxv.28, p. 38, and
the Parable of the Burning House in Lotus Sutra 3, p. 145n.
I, an idle bard, by Thee a task am assigned:
In primal time was I commanded night and day to laud Thee.
The bard was summoned by the Master to the Eternal Mansion,
And was honored with the robe of divine laudation and praise.
On the holy Name ambrosial was he feasted.
As by the Master's guidance on this he has feasted, has felt blessed.
The bard has spread and proclaimed divine laudation by the holy Word.
Says Nanak, By laudation of the holy Eternal
Is the Supreme Being, all-perfection, attained.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Var Majh, M.1, p. 150
Lo! We revealed it on the Night of Power.
Ah, what will convey unto you what the Night of Power is!
The Night of Power is better than a thousand months.
The angels and the Spirit descend therein, by the permission of their Lord,
with all decrees.
It means peace until the rising of the dawn.
Islam. Qur'an 97.1-5
By the Star when it sets,
your comrade errs not, nor is deceived,
nor does he speak of his own desire.
It is naught but an inspiration that is inspired,
which one of mighty powers has taught him,
one vigorous; and he grew clear to view
when he was on the uppermost horizon.
Then he drew near and came down
till he was two bows' length away or even nearer,
and He revealed unto His slave that which He revealed.
The heart lied not in what he saw;
will you then dispute with him what he has seen?
Islam. Qur'an 53.1-12
In the month of Ramadan in which God willed concerning him what He
willed of His grace, the Apostle set forth to Hira as was his wont, and
his family with him. When it was the night on which God honored him with
his mission and showed mercy on His servants thereby, Gabriel brought him
the command of God. "He came to me," said the Apostle of God, "while I was
asleep, with a coverlet of brocade whereupon was some writing, and said,
'Read!' I said, 'I cannot read.' He pressed me with it so tightly that I
thought it was death; then he let me go and said, 'Read!' I said, 'I
cannot read.' He pressed me with it again so that I thought it was death;
then he let me go and said, 'Read!' I said, 'I cannot read.' He pressed
me with it the third time so that I thought it was death and said, 'Read!'
I said, 'What then shall I read?'--and this I said only to deliver myself
from him, lest he should do the same to me again. He said,
Read! In the name of thy Lord who created,
Who created man of blood coagulated.
Read! Thy Lord is the most beneficent,
Who taught by the pen,
Taught that which they knew not unto men. [Qur'an 96.1-5]
"So I read it, and he departed from me. And I awoke from my sleep, and it
was as though these words were written on my heart. Now none of God's
creatures was more hateful to me than an ecstatic poet or a man possessed:
I could not even look at them. I thought, Woe is me, a poet or
possessed--never shall the Quraysh say this of me! I will go to the top
of the moutain and throw myself down that I may kill myself and gain rest.
So I went forth to do so, and then, when I was midway on the mountain, I
heard a voice from heaven saying, 'O Muhammad! thou art the Apostle of God
and I am Gabriel.' I raised my head toward heaven to see who was
speaking, and lo, Gabriel in the form of a man with feet astride the
horizon, saying, 'O Muhammad! thou art the Apostle of God and I am
Gabriel.' I stood gazing at him, moving neither forward nor backward;
then I began to turn my face away from him, but toward whatever region of
the sky I looked, I saw him as before. And I continued standing there,
neither advancing nor turning back, until Khadija sent her messengers in
search of me and they gained the high ground above Mecca and returned to
her while I was standing in the same place; then he parted from me and I
from him, returning to my family.
"And I came to Khadija and sat by her thigh and drew close to her.
She said, 'O Abu'l-Qasim, where have you been? By God, I sent my
messengers in search of you, and they reached the high ground above Mecca
and returned to me.' I said to her, 'Woe is me, a poet or one possessed.'
She said, 'I take refuge in God from that, O Abu'l-Qasim. God would not
treat you thus, since He knows your truthfulness, your great
trustworthiness, your fine character, and your kindness. This cannot be,
my dear. Perhaps you did see something.' 'Yes, I did,' I said. Then I
told her of what I had seen; and she said, 'Rejoice, O son of my uncle,
and be of good heart. Verily, by Him in whose hand is Khadija's soul, I
have hope that you will be the Prophet of this people.' Then she arose
and gathered her garments and set forth to her cousin Waraqa, who had
become a Christian and read the scriptures and learned from those that
follow the Torah and the Gospel. And when she related to him what the
Apostle of God told her he had seen and heard, Waraqa cried, 'Holy! Holy!
Verily by Him in whose hand is Waraqa's soul, if you have spoken to me the
truth, Khadija, there came to him the greatest Namus (Gabriel) who came to
Moses aforetime, and lo, he is the Prophet of this people.'"
Islam. Sirat Rasul Allah
Exodus 3.1-4.16: Typically when God calls someone to a great mission, he
may first offer excuses and try to refuse His request. Moses finally
agrees to lead the Israelites when God gives him Aaron as a helper and
spokesman. For more on the Name of God, see note to Exodus 3.13-15, p.
120, and Torah Yesharah, p. 506. Qur'an 53.1-12: This passage describes
Muhammad's vision of the Angel Gabriel on Mount Hira. Sirat Rasul Allah:
The quotation, from the Qur'an 96.1-5, is the content of the angel
Gabriel's first revelation to Muhammad. Khadija was Muhammad's first wife
and a firm support for her husband in the difficult days of his early
ministry in Mecca.
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named
Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed of a man whose name was Joseph, of the
house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and
said, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly
troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting
this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for
you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb
and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end."
And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" And
the angel said to her,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you;
therefore the child to be born will be called holy,
the Son of God...
For with God, nothing will be impossible."
And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me
according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the
world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius
was govern- or of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own
city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to
Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of
the house and lineage of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed,
who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to
be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in
swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for
them in the inn.
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping
watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to
them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled
with fear. And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I
bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for
to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the
Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in
swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the
angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will among men!
Christianity. Luke 1.26-2.14
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John
in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw
the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a
voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well
Christianity. Mark 1.9-11
Mark 1.9-11: The baptism of Jesus marks the beginning of his ministry. In
Mark's account, Jesus is the recipient of revelation and empowerment; God
speaks to him, the dove descends upon him, and the Spirit enters into him.
In Matthew 3.17 and John 1.32-34 the baptism is regarded rather as a sign
to John the Baptist of Jesus' messiahship and divinity.
Although his parents were unwilling and tears poured down their cheeks,
the recluse Gotama, having cut off hair and beard and donned saffron
robes, went forth from home into homelessness.
Buddhism. Digha Nikaya i.115
The king of the Shakya, having heard from the sage Asita that the
goal of the prince was to attain supreme bliss, sought to engage the
prince in sensual pleasures, lest he should wish to go off to the forest.
On one occasion, however, the prince heard about woods filled with
songs, abounding in fresh grass, with trees in which the cuckoos sounded,
adorned with many lotus ponds. The king, learning of the desire of his
dear son, arranged an excursion befitting his affection, majesty, and his
son's age. Yet he ordered that all commoners suffering any affliction
should be kept off the royal road lest the tender-hearted prince be
distressed at the sight of them....
The prince saw the man overcome with old age, different in form
from other people, and his curiosity was aroused. "Oh, charioteer! Who
is this man with gray hair, supported by a staff in his hand, his eyes
sunken under his eye- brows, his limbs feeble and bent? Is this
transformation a natural state or an accident?" The charioteer, when he
was thus asked, his intelligence being confused by the gods, saw no harm
in telling the prince its significance, which should have been discreetly
withheld from him, "Old age, it is called, the destroyer of beauty and
vigor, the source of sorrow, the depriver of pleasures, the slayer of
memories, the enemy of sense organs. That man has been ruined by old age.
He, too, in his infancy had taken milk and, in due time, had crawled on
the ground; he then became a handsome youth, and now he has reached old
age.... People in the world are aware of old age, the destroyer of
beauty; yet, they seek pleasures."... For a long while, the prince kept
his gaze on the decrepit man, sighing and shaking his head. "Turn back
the horses, charioteer; go home quickly. How can I enjoy myself in the
garden when the fear of death is revolving in my mind?"
[On a second excursion, the prince is similarly distressed at the
sight of a man afflicted by disease. On a third excursion, he sees a
corpse carried by mourners.]
The charioteer then said to him, "This is the last state of all
men. Death is certain for all, whether they be of low, middle, or high
degree." Though he was a steadfast man, the prince felt faint as soon as
he heard about death. Leaning his shoulders against the railing, he said
in a sad tone, "This is the inescapable end for all men; yet, people in
the world harbor no fear and seem unconcerned. Men must be hardened
indeed to be so at ease as they walk down the road leading to the next
life. Charioteer, turn back, for this is not the time for the
pleasure-ground. How can a man of intelligence, aware of death, enjoy
himself in this fateful hour?"...
Longing for solitude, the prince kept his followers back and
approached a lonely spot at the foot of a Jamb-u tree, covered all over
with beautiful leaves. There he sat on the clean ground where the soft
grass glittered like beryl. Contemplating the birth and death of beings,
he undertook to steady his mind in meditation. In no time his mind became
firm; he was released from mental distractions such as the desire for
objects of sense, and attained the first trance of calmness. Having
acquired the concentration of mind which springs from solitude, the prince
was filled with extreme joy and bliss; then meditating on the course of
the world, he thought that this state was indeed supreme. "Alas, wretched
is he who, out of ignorance and the blindness of pride, ignores others who
are distressed by old age, sickness, or death, though he himself, being
likewise subject to disease, old age, and death, is helpless!" As he thus
perceived clearly the evils of disease, old age, and death in the world,
the false pride in self, arising from a belief in one's strength, youth,
and life, left him instantly....
While this passionless, pure insight of that great-souled one grew,
a man in mendicant's clothes approached him without being seen by others.
The prince asked, "Tell me, who are you?" The man replied, "Oh best of
men, I am a mendicant who, in fear of birth and death, has renounced the
world for the sake of deliverance. In this world which is characterized
by destruction, I eagerly search for the blessed and indestructible state.
I regard both kinsmen and strangers as equals, and I am free from the
evils of passion arising from objects of sense. Living wherever I happen
to be--at the foot of a tree, in a deserted house, in the mountains, or in
the woods--I wander about, living on the alms I receive, without ties to
person or place and with no expectation save for the attainment of the
ultimate goal."... The prince now knew what he should do, and began
thinking of a way to leave his home.
Buddhism. Ashvaghosha, Buddhacarita 3-5
While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the
contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the
Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: "If any of
you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and
upbraideth not; and it shall be given him."
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the
heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with
great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and
again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how
to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I had then
had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different
sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to
destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.
Finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the
desire of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was
seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an
astonishing influ- ence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not
speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time
as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of
the power of this enemy which had seized me, and at the very moment when I
was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction... I saw
a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun,
which descend- ed gradually until it fell upon me.
It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy
which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages,
whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the
air. One of them spoke to me, calling me by name and said, "This is My
Beloved Son. Hear Him!"
My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all
the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner,
therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than
I asked the Person- ages who stood above me in the light, which of all the
sects was right--and which I should join.
I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all
wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were
an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that
"they draw near me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they
teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having the form of godliness,
but they deny the power thereof."
He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things
did he say to me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to
myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven.
When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in
some degree, I went home.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pearl of Great
Price, Joseph Smith 2.11-20
Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith 2.11-20: This was the first revelation
to Joseph Smith, years before he received the golden plates on which were
written the Book of Mormon. Here he was first oppressed by a satanic
force--compare Genesis 32.24-30, pp. 624f.--but with desperate prayers he
was delivered. He saw two beings, whom he identified as God and Jesus.
Based in part on this revelation, Latter-day Saints theology understands
God to have a physical body; cf. Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 3.22-4.1,