In this episode I look at the second creation story in the Bible from a nondual perspective, interpreting the human soul as the World Soul.
I continue my exploration of the early chapters of Genesis interpreted from a nondual perspective. Today I am looking at the second creation story in the Bible. The first creation account of Genesis 1 about the seven days of creation was written in the sixth century. The second creation account in Genesis 2 was written earlier. Exactly how much earlier is up for grabs. It was originally thought to be three hundred years earlier, but it might have been only a hundred years earlier. For our purpose the dating really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that this is an entirely different creation story about the origins of humankind.
God has a different name in this account. God is Yahweh combined with the other divine name Elohim. So he called Yahweh Elohim. Yahweh is a much earthier deity. Whereas Elohim of Genesis 1 simply spoke the universe into existence, Yahweh gets his hands dirty … literally. He gets down on his hands and knees in the Mesopotamian mud and forms a human body the way a potter forms a clay pot. Then Yahweh puts his mouth to the mouth of this “earth man” and breathes his breath, neshema haim, the breath of life, into the nostrils of this clay-man and the man haadam, became a nephesh haya, a living soul.
So far this is standard stuff that any seminary student who took an Old Testament Introduction course would know. But now let me talk about how this second creation story is an expression of nonduality.
First of all we have to understand that this is myth. Myth in a good sense. Myth does not mean it is not true. Myth is true fiction. Myth communicates spiritual truth through stories that are not meant to be taken literally. The error of fundamentalism is that it thinks that stories have to be taken literally to be true. That is just a clever way the ego has to avoid truth. Nothing in Genesis is to be taken literally, especially not the first eleven chapters. But they are to be taken seriously as ancient stories that communicate profound spiritual truth.
So what is the truth that is being communicated? This second creation story is communicating a sense of closeness between human and divine. Yahweh is a very human deity. He is not a distant creator. He gets on his hands and knees. He gets his hands dirty in the act of creation. He performs mouth to mouth resuscitation to give humans life. This is no faraway transcendent deity who is too holy to be seen or approached. This is an immanent God.
The story also tells us something about who we are. God breathes his breath into a man of dirt and it becomes alive. That is who we are. We are living dirt. “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” That is literally true. We are dirt, which ought to be obvious to anyone who has scattered the ashes of a loved one. This body is made of the same elements as the soil in my garden. I am earth. I am the earth. This body has been around in some form for 4.5 billion years as earth. And before that for another 8 billion as the elements of my body were formed in stars.
The earth is not something different from me. It is me. It is literally my body. That puts a whole new spin on environmentalism. There is a lot of controversy about climate change and extinctions and the environment. What people don’t really get is that we are talking about ourselves, not something separate from ourselves. We are the earth and everything on it. The earth is us. In this Genesis story the Hebrew word for human – adam – is a male form of the word for earth – adamah. Adam comes from adamah. We are variations of the same thing.
Even the English language communicates this. The word human comes from the same root as humus, which is soil. We are literally and chemically one with the earth. We come from earth and return to earth. We are earth. In that sense we never die; we just change form. This is the body part.
The second part of the creation story is the spiritual part. The story says that God breathes into this earthen body, the breath of life or the spirit of life - neshema haim. Our life is divine breath. This inbreathing was not just a onetime event. God breathes every breath we take. God is breathing through us now. That is why breath exercises are so much associated with spiritual exercises.
God is living in and through us. God’s Spirit animates us. Our spirit is God’s spirit. The spirit in us is God’s Spirit. That is what the Upanishads mean when they say that atman is Brahman. Just as we are the earth and the earth is us, so we can say that we are Spirit and Spirit is us. We are one with God and creation.
There is a third part to the story, and this is where it gets really interesting. It is about the soul. It says “the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” HaAdam – man of earth – was inbreathed by neshema – the breath of life - and became nephesh haya – traditionally translated “a living soul.”
Many people use the word soul as a synonym for spirit, but that is not the case in scripture. Soul is the result of the union of body and spirit. The body and spirit combine to produce a living soul. The Greek word that translates the Hebrew word nephesh is psuche or psyche. That is the word used in the Septuagint, which is the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures.
This psyche is what we normally understand to be our unique individual self. It is present at birth and develops in the early years of life through family and culture. It is our interface with the world. Just like every snow crystal is unique, so every living psyche, is unique.
This soul is both a beautiful, wonderful thing, but it can be a deceptive and enslaving thing. It is deceptive and delusional when we mistake an individual psyche for our true nature. It is not. It is just an expression of what we are. This psyche is our temporary human expression, and as such it is glorious, like each sunrise or sunset is glorious.
We are complex psychological creatures with wonderful intellectual, emotional, imaginative and intuitive capacities. That is a good thing. But it is transitory. This personal soul or psyche is not immortal. It had a beginning and it will have an end. One day it will cease when the body dies and returns to earth. Ecclesiastes says, “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” What about the soul?
This is where I want to go one step further than interpreters normally go in talking about soul. Commentators normally talk about individual souls or psyches. But the Genesis creation story only talks about one Soul.
In Genesis HaAdam, Adam, represents humankind as a whole. Humankind is a living soul. All of humanity is one living soul. There are not eight billion little individual immortal souls running around on this earth trying to get to get enlightened or saved or born again or get to heaven or escape the wheel of rebirth or whatever your religious scheme of salvation happens to be. We are one soul.
We share one Soul with everyone else. When the body dies the sense of being an individual self ends, but the larger Soul of Humanity continues as long as there are humans. We are one spiritual Soul. We are one with all humans who have ever lived and ever will live. This is where the idea of reincarnation came from. We sense that we have lived before and will live again in all others in history. That is also why a sense of spiritual connection with ancestors has been a part of human spirituality from earliest times. That oneness is also with God, who gives humankind life. The spiritual life is about realizing this oneness now.
This reality is also where the idea of a personal God comes from. I think the idea of a personal theistic God comes from our awareness of there being a Self that is bigger than our individual personal selves. People have called that collective Soul God. This is the origin of theism.
Only one Soul is mentioned in this story in Genesis, and our seemingly individual psyches or souls are all expressions of it. All humans share one Soul, just like we share the same air and water and the same elements in our bodies. I think this is also what is referred to when Christians speak about a personal relationship with Christ. Christ is another term for this One Human Soul.
“It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me,” said Paul. All die in Adam and are resurrected in Christ, he said. Emerson called this the world soul. The anima mundi. Plato talked about this as the psychè kósmou, the cosmic soul. This is the logos of John’s gospel. This is what Christians call Christ. This is the Christ who was resurrected when the individual names Jesus died. This is the Eternal Christ seen as human and divine. This is Christ incarnated in us.
Teresa of Ávila famously said:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are His body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.