You stare through stale eyes
at the furious waves of nature
your past hopes now fixed belief
hang like a pall over the embroidered garden
fading its unfolding colour to dry routine.
Your heart is kind,
and it is not age that dulls your sight
but the horrible repeat
of a formula that is watertight
and will not rot away.
If we grow blind to the currents of heaven
we coagulate in earth,
ensuring our own decay
by the grip of self-preservation:
and those whose marriage gifts
would stir old roots to new growth
are censored by the past and turned away.
from ‘It Could Have Been Different’ by Diana Durham
What the Buddhists rather gently term ‘error’ is expressed much more forcefully by the Genesis symbolism. In this story the results of eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are nothing short of catastrophic. First of all, eating the fruit brings about a change in Adam and Eve’s awareness: “and they knew that they were naked”. The nakedness is the feeling of disconnection from the transcendent flow — losing the glow of that positive energy. Then a change comes in their relationship: “ … I will put enmity between thee and the woman”. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The sense of alienation in ourselves as individuals will almost always lead to conflict in our relationships. And finally, as these changes take place in and between Adam and Eve, it also causes changes in their environment: “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee” ; and changes in the way they would now have to go about living: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,”. The very fabric of the world appeared to be altered.
It’s hard to miss the connection between the changes in Adam and Eve and the changes in the environment. Clearly the loss, the onset of troubles of all kinds are linked to the change in Adam and Eve. There are two important meanings here. First of all, the symbolism is telling us, in no uncertain terms, that the world reflects our consciousness. Secondly, it is suggesting, again in strong terms, that the malfunction or ‘fall’ of consciousness leads to an extremely problematic outcome. These are twin themes that we will find echoed throughout the wisdom tradition, and which of course, parallel the Buddhist view that our consciousness and the manifest world are interwoven.
Adam and Eve, after eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, represent mind and heart that are functioning on the basis of involvement with and evaluation of the outer, empirical world, without the overview of the transcendent. They have lost awareness of the way the tree of life grows through the interchange and dance of the principles of duality, of complementary forces. Male and female, light and dark, positive and negative and so on. And instead, they see the world as broken into two opposing parts. Knowledge of good and evil has come to mean judgement of what is good and bad, but judgement in this sense cuts away one half of the creative process. Only what is good is good, only what is good is to be sought after, accepted, included. Looking this way at things, through the eyes of judgement, we lose faith in the way the flow of the whole is expressed by the alternating cycles of growth — the complete and the incomplete.
All trees, all plants, just about all matter in fact from the structure of whirlpools to the contractor muscle in our hearts, form and develop in a spiral pattern. A spiral is the same curving circle repeated over and over again at different levels. As the curve turns through one ring of the spiral it represents a point of completion, it is ‘good’. As it begins its movement towards the next level, it is incomplete, ‘evil’. A better word for this kind of evil is ‘evol’: the spiral of growth is ‘evol’-ving towards the next level of completion. If we judge this aspect of the evolutionary process as ‘bad’ we damage its potential. A simple example is the development of children. The behaviour of an eight year-old boy, for instance, might look ‘wrong’ or at least extremely odd, if we compared him to a 25 year-old young man. Very often young boys are either subtly or more crudely ‘made wrong’ by the culture or their parents for expressing their emotional, feminine side as they are growing up. This discouragement tends to shut down and inhibit the expressive side of them, making them less complete as adults. If left to unfold in a more open, non-judgmental atmosphere, the different layerings of emotional and character essences can be allowed to find their scope and be laid down to form a spacious and balanced psychic foundation for the man to draw on in later life.
The habit of judgement whereby the flowing whole of things is divided up arbitrarily and the attempt is made to separate off or make wrong the incomplete aspects of ourselves and our affairs stems from the fact that this separation has already occurred within the dual nature of consciousness itself. The way we perceive the world reflects back to us the condition of our own consciousness. We see a world of duality, of good and bad, when our consciousness has itself become separated from the causal flow of being. One of the most deeply systemic ways this operates is our belief that the world we live in constitutes a distinct material reality that is separate from us. We interpret the world this way because this is how we experience ourselves when separated from the flow, ie, as distinct, separate individuals.
Moreover, not only is this dualistic view a deep part of our perceptual framework, it is also permeated with the judgement of what is good and what is bad. Somewhere along the way a so-called split appeared, in which the spiritual world was exalted above the physical. This led to a subtle disregard for the body, for sexuality, for the earth itself. We associate this value split with a religious, specifically Christian, inheritance. Yet it is fascinating to see it at play in the modern creed of materialism, in which the world and its flora and fauna are viewed merely as raw materials to supply our life style. The nearest we come to valuing them is to admit that there might be a need to make sure our approach is sustainable! The wholeness, holiness of the world is lost this way, diminished first in our blinkered vision, and then by our actions.
Eve did not just grow fascinated with the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and she did not stop at merely picking it off the tree — she ate it. When we eat something, it becomes a part of us. And Eve’s eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil signifies being so involved in the realm of effects that we incorporate it into ourselves in the sense of becoming identified with it. And I have already mentioned, it has become the cultural norm, particularly in the west, to equate identity with personality, so that we think of ourselves as the sum of all the influences from our birth and background. We say we ‘are’ Irish, or Italian, we ‘are’ black or white, male, female, Muslim, Jewish, or we ‘are’ an intuitive type, extrovert, introvert, or the product of very ambitious but working class parents, or of emotionally repressed parents, etc. We also identify ourselves with our jobs or roles — I am a lawyer, a teacher, a mother, and so on
Living from the fundamental (and usually unquestioned) assumption that we are the sum of our background influences and roles means that our sense of identity is blended into the realm of effects. We are identified more with the realm of effects than with the realm of cause; more identified as part of the creation than as a creator. This is problematic for a number of reasons. It can automatically set us up to be in conflict with others, particularly those whose personality pattern makes us uncomfortable because it does not reinforce our own, means usually means one that is similar to our own. Moreover, if we believe we are the sum of our emotional conditionings and experiences, we will tend to live our lives on the basis of a continuous complex unfoldment of what is in essence a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can’t experience my feelings because I am a man; I am an introvert, so I can’t speak in public. And this easily leads of course, to creating and sustaining social structures to restrain others on the basis of these belief systems — you cannot vote because you are a woman (1890's); you cannot vote because you are black (1960's), your marriage partnership cannot be recognized legally because you are gay (present day — in some places).
The two aspects of eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (functioning out of balance, so that we lose awareness of the transcendent, the tree of life), and the blending of our identity with the realm of effects (becoming identified with our personality and conditioning influences) — compound and reinforce one another. What is like us is good, what is not like us is bad. And often what is not like us is not only bad, it is the reason our lives are not working out the way we want. Here is the fundamental dynamic that fuels prejudice, racial prejudice being one of the most obvious examples. White people have had a history of being deeply suspicious of, fearful of, disdainful of darker skinned races. People who are not ‘like’ them — what we do not like. This emotionally charged judgment, (combined with the desire for easy profit — what we do ‘like’) is what led to the terrible actions of abuse — from the virtual genocide and uprooting of the North American Indian tribes to the slavery of Africans and all its attendant horrors. The same syndrome is what lay behind the holocaust. Jewish people were not as ‘good’ or as ‘racially pure’ as the so-called ‘Aryan race’. They were in fact somewhat evil, since they were apparently conspiring against the German Fatherland by controlling all the money reserves. Moreover, there was the residual sense from former pogroms, that Jews were somehow beyond the pale of ordinary standards. Their religion meant that the ‘normal’ civilized codes of morality and justice need not apply to them.
Judgment is violent. The mind’s convictions when disconnected from the tree of life lead to destructive actions and outcomes. Perhaps this is easier to see on the large scale than in our individual lives. It may not seem as if we do anyone violence when we judge them (and interestingly, the connotation of ‘judgment’ is most often condemnation) but if we have ever been on the receiving end of judgment we feel strangely violated. How could anyone see us through such blinkered vision? Their take on us is so clearly unjust, and what’s more, its inaccurate! This person is just not seeing anything approaching the full spectrum, the whole of us. It is the partialness of judgment that is so destructive. And it is destructive to both victim and perpetrator. This is the meaning of Jesus’ s words: “ judge not, lest by what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged.’ We will be restricted by our own restrictions of vision.
One way I have noticed how this works is in my friendships. If I hold a subtle judgment about some one — she’s ok, I like her, but she’s a bit of a flake, she doesn’t follow through. The little judgment means I keep my distance, and I get to experience this person more or less exactly the way I see them. Later on, sometimes after years of keeping whoever it is in this ‘reservations about’ category, something happens — usually a deepening in myself, or circumstances that bring us together in a new context — and I get to see round the two-dimensional square corners of my judgment. Behaviour that I experienced as undependable flakiness is shown to be the small tip of a much larger artistic presence, a consciousness that does not restrict itself in the same, rather narrow strictures of my brand of self-righteousness. When I step out from behind my stiff judgment screen I get to experience, interact with and be nourished by this deep reservoir of feminine substance. And my friend feels received and released from my subtle condemnation, and can begin to learn from and enjoy what my presence brings. This is much more satisfying all round — here is the tree of life blossoming instead of the more barren fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
Growing the tree of life means we relate to our family, friends, colleagues as wholes, as composite packages of complete and incomplete characteristics and patterns of development. In a way, the ability to do this is the very essence of relating as opposed to reacting. Reaction is another form of judgment of good and bad and tends to entrench the pattern of evol in a person, while relationship allows people to grow and mature.
If a pattern entrenches to the extent that the person begins to do more explicit and obvious acts of damage to others, then their actions become the concern of the justice system. When an angry and emotionally abused man turns violent towards his wife and children; or when a neglected and unloved teenager’s anti-social behavior develops in adulthood into acts of criminality, the law courts attempt to limit the damage by instituting various restraints, fines, community service periods, or terms of imprisonment. In the criminal courts, a jury must determine whether some one is guilty or not-guilty of a given crime. The judge oversees this process and must then pass judgement. Essentially the person is being judged as to whether they are wrong or right. To be guilty of the crime is to be wrong, to be not-guilty is to be right. While this system may be a needed restraint within the current workings of society, everyone knows that the original problem — the behavior that led to the crime — is not dealt with by the sentencing. In fact, often it serves to deepen the problem. The young man who is sent to prison for a minor offense, turns into a more hardened criminal because of his exposure to the other inmates and the black mark that is now on his record.
Rarely do rules, regulations and punishments serve effectively in providing creative and holistic solutions to problems. The vast machinery of the justice system has on the one hand a lot of power over people’s lives, but on the other, very little power to bring creative outcome. It is all a part of the ramifications of eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil!