The telling of the story of Genesis is one of human evolution, or devolution, depending on how you look at it. If we take God at his or her word, or they’re word, I know this is getting confusing, but it’ll make sense soon, I hope; God said we became more like God Be it he, she, or as it is written in the Bible, “us.” After Adam and Eve eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge God says that humans are more like God, because we gained knowledge of the difference between good and evil. God actually says “us” in the Bible, a strange little fact, check it out for yourself. So if we take the Almighty for his, her, they’re word humans evolved by eating the forbidden fruit. Many people were taught the eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge resulted in a disgraceful fall out of God’s favor, devolution, a giant leap backward, unlike Neil Armstrong’s “giant leap for mankind,” but that isn’t what happened, at least if you believe God over some preachers. God said humans were elevated, but that elevation gave us a responsibility for knowledge that we still struggle with. The rest of the Bible after the bite is a record of how badly humans managed the responsibility for knowledge of good and evil. We still struggle to gain the wisdom needed to handle it. For a moment take a step back from the extremes of good and evil and look at it as like and dislike, or preference. Think of all the ways preference has escalated to disagreements then to arguments then to war.
Aren’t cultural differences just preferences along with the cause of many wars? Sure in modern times the majority of war was due to religious differences, which seemed more cultural to me, and, probably the real reason for all wars, the struggle over resources, which is an extension of population growth and migration. We struggle with simple preferences. Many religions state that life is a struggle. Struggle, actually immanent war, is the setting of the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita, one Kabbalistic view of the story of Hanukkah as told by Rachel Naomi Remen’s grandfather in her book My Grandfathers Blessings, is it represents the struggle of life and the way, through the light of our souls, we are able to connect, support, and enlighten one another while building community at the same time. Lao Tzu saw material and human existence as a constant play of opposite yet complementary forces, yin and yang, that some interpret as a struggle between good and evil, and the Buddha’s fist Nobel Truth says life is suffering. Well, that’s not exactly say suffering, he actually said dukkha, which means life has a pervasive unending sense of unsatisfactoriness, of never having enough. If you study Buddhism deeply you will find the goal isn’t avoidance or irradiation of discomfort or irritation, but the ability to be happy, compassionate, content, joyful and kind no matter the discomfort or unsatisfying situation you experience. Unsatisfactoriness on a biological level is due to the on going need for air, water, and food for survival. In the modern world unsatisfactoriness is due to not having the latest gadget, style, or toy. It even extends into spirituality where people want to do the perfect yoga pose or at least look like a spiritual person.
At the highest level of many religious teachings there is no good and evil, no duality, only the constant ebb and flow of energies seeking balance. I believe the reason religions don’t teach the highest levels are for three reasons: the first is in the past religious leaders were highly educated compared to their followers causing them to teach the simplest form which usually amounted to morality, secondly, again because their followers were uneducated, Religious leaders realized the power they had and abused it, thirdly there are powers very advanced spiritual practices awaken that in the wrong hands could be used to harm other people and themselves. This is why the highest teachers taught love and compassion. They realized that power often leads to abuse and the destruction of spiritual progress since people too easily get diverted from oneness and universal love and seduced by a false sense of power which always leads to hubris.
The Buddha experienced an awakening to the truth of non-duality. Similar to Lao Tzu, he said this is like this because that is like that, cause and effect, and interdependence. All things are in interdependent in relationships which are often interpreted as struggle. Waves lapping in a beach and a gentle wind rustling leaves aren’t normally seen as struggle, but they are no less conflict than a tsunami or tornado except for the degree of intensity, it’s the same difference between like and dislike and good and evil. One of the simplest and effective solutions in Buddhism is a practice of contentment.
This leads back to eating of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil which led to suffering. What discontentment did led Eve and then Adam to eat the fruit? If we look at them as feminine and masculine energies versus people we see the feminine passive receptive energy receiving knowledge which is used by the masculine active side which explains why all the violence that follows in the Bible to be caused by men. Yet I have to ask, is eating the fruit really the beginning? What was the roots of the impulse to be tempted in the first place? Could the serpent have tempted Eve if she had nothing to tempt within her? What was there within humanity before the knowledge of the difference between good and evil that set the stage for temptation? Was it curiosity? Boredom? What unsatisfactory sense allowed the temptation to begin with? Could the simple sense of discontent caused by the need for food, water, and shelter for survival, which all humans will feel until they die, have been at play? Symbolic or literal it is relevant to note that Eve was suffering on some level, no matter how small, and that possibly was the doorway for temptation. Since Eve was tempted it forces you to ask if Eden was paradise, or if Paradise is unsatisfying to humans? Even in religions with a belief in reincarnation it is sometimes said that the soul evolves much faster in a body on this plane of existence. Suffering and the attempt to prevent or stop suffering is the activity most humans are engaged in. Whether we know it or not the majority of human activity is focused around survival. We are as much, or more, driven by our fight or flight response than our primitive ancestors. I could be wrong, but when I see a bird stretch out it’s wings and completely relax on the ground at McDonald’s, then I look around at people who can’t even sleep, I can’t help but feel the animals are not as continuously stressed as us. I think the reason for this is that the threat recognition systems in our brains don’t easily recognize, or know how to deal with, today’s threats. Undermining co-workers, crazy bosses, careless drivers, stock market collapses are not as obvious as bear or tiger, and it wouldn’t benefit you to impale them with a spear. This unfamiliarity keeps many of us on a heightened alert level because, while we feel threatened, we either can’t identify the exact threat, or we don’t have effective strategies and solutions for those threats. This can lead to a lack of confidence and a sense of insecurity that is often incorrectly related to self-esteem.
One way to regain confidence and self-esteem is to look realistically at modern life. There are lots of science fiction horror stories about artificial intelligence taking over the world and enslaving humans. This has already happened on a less obvious level; we are already controlled by a monster of our own making – modern society. First world citizens are born into a world of human design and construction. The buildings, roads, electricity, plumbing, markets, schools, jobs and so on are all of our own making, and yet we feel trapped by it all. In an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown he was in China. Part of the commentary mentioned the way China worked to replicate America’s 250-300 years of development in 20 years. Well they did such a great job that Bourdain showed a Chinese college graduate sitting in a cafe on his cellphone feeling lost and not knowing what to do with his life. China modeled our angst and challenges as well as our success. This modern society, this monster of our own creation, is the very thing we feel trapped and controlled by. Isn’t that ridiculous? This Frankenstein way of life is the source of low self-esteem in millions. What makes it worse is advertising has developed a keen ability to manipulate our survival and anxiety responses to work for them and against our better judgement, which also works to undermine self-esteem. Who can you feel good about yourself when you don’t feel in control of yourself, even if that lack of control is a learned and trained behavior? Not all humans are under this spell. They are the ones who manipulate it financially and politically, and possibly, religiously.
There is another pill to swallow Neo, but you don’t need to escape the matrix, instead you can be, in the words of Jesus “in the world but not of it.” Consider that Buddha was enlightened and in nirvana while still in a body and Jesus said the kingdom of Heaven is at hand and within. You don’t have to go anywhere to experience blissful heavenly nirvana. The challenge is in your quality of appropriate education. It is not mentioned in the Bible whether anything happened to the Tree of Life. Isn’t that interesting? Both trees existed in the Garden of Eden, and yet once humans ate the fruit of knowledge, the Tree of Life was no loner mentioned. I’m guessing the Tree of Life is still in the Garden of Eden. Let’s play. Imagine the Garden of Eden is like nirvana, a place that’s not a place, or heaven, a place within and around you. In the same way Heaven can be both within and around you at this very moment the Tree of Life and it’s influence is at hand. Play with the notion that Buddha nature and Heaven are already a part of you, but you are educated and habituated toward the knowledge of good and evil. This means you just need education back to Life!
The Tree of Life is still present and available. So how do you strengthen its influence in our life? Are we able to bring it back to prominence over, or at least in balance with, the Tree of Knowledge? I’m guessing that is what Jesus was attempting to do. He said he is the way and the life which could mean he was saying he was restoring the prominence of the Tree of Life through, if nothing else, his example. The Buddha was enlightened under a tree that aided and confirmed his enlightenment, and the earth was his witness. He was a prince who realized young that wealth, power, intelligence, did not bring happiness and an end to suffering. He left an extremely sheltered life to seek liberation from the illusion of temporary satisfaction. It seems he succeeded. Some of his methods are applicable for us over 2500 hundred years later; mindfulness being the most well known.
The Tree of Life can be reached in many ways.
6. A smile
7. A warm heart
In posts to come I will be writing about all of them. Until then focus on contentment and see where it takes you.