In this episode I explore the second part of the the third chapter of Genesis and interpret it from a nondual perspective. I look the banishment of Adam and Eve to the land east of Eden. They were banished from the Garden of Nonduality to live in the Wilderness of Duality. The characteristics of this banishment can be summed up in two words: separation and suffering.
In the last episode I explored the third chapter of Genesis and interpreted it from a nondual perspective. There is so much to cover in that chapter that I decided to devote another session to the second part of the chapter. Last time we looked at what is called the Fall. We saw how it is meant as a symbolic myth that describes our fall into duality as a human race and as seemingly individual human beings. We talked about the meaning of Adam and Eve, the serpent, the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life.
We didn’t really look at the consequences of the Fall, so today I want to start there. The main consequence in the story is the banishment of Adam and Eve to the land east of Eden. They were banished from the Garden of Nonduality to live in the land of Duality. The characteristics of this banishment can be summed up in two words: separation and suffering. That is the human condition. This story is saying the same thing as the Buddha said when he said that human life is suffering and he outlined a way to be free of the suffering.
There are several forms of separation and suffering mentioned in this story. First is a sense of separation from each other. It says that as soon as Adam and Eve ate of the Tree of Knowledge, “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” This contrasts with the description of them in the previous chapter when it says “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
They felt a sense of self-consciousness around each other. Christian commentators have made this all about sex, but it is really more about the development of human self-awareness. And with this self-consciousness comes other-consciousness. This idea of being a separate self is a consequence of duality.
The story continues: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
This describes the sense of separation between oneself and God. As these verses point out, this is the source of the fear of God. “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid…,” Adam said. The fall into duality brings with it a sense of separation between the divine and the human.
In reading this story it is important to note that Adam and Eve were not in fact separated from God. They only felt separated causing them to try to hide from the presence of God. But if God is truly omnipresent, then you can’t hide from God. God is always here and now.
We are not separated from God. Nothing – not even sin can change the omnipresence of God. All that changes is our awareness of the presence of God. What changes is that we hide from God. We hide behind our ego. We hide as egos, pretending the self is what we are. Then we believe our own deception.
You can see this for yourself in meditation. During your next time of meditation just slip the ego off for a moment. Take off the mask, or at least tilt it up a little bit so you can peak to what is beyond. What you will see is the spacious presence of God. As a result you may want to slip that ego mask right back on again, because as the Bible says, no one can see God and live. The ego will start to die, which is why we are afraid, just like Adam and Eve. Until we realize that we are not our masks. This spacious presence is our true nature.
In the story God wants to know what changed to cause them to hide. He asks them if they ate of the Tree of Knowledge, and they confess … kind of. Actually they start blaming everyone but themselves. The man blames the woman and the woman blames the serpent. The man even blames God, saying, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” In other words, it is your fault, God! That is another expression of separation from God.
This sense of blame and dishonesty with ourselves and with God is evidence of the separation. Blaming the serpent is blaming our animal nature. Blaming others is just another way to try to hide. All this blaming, self-justification and self-righteousness are all symptoms of the human sense of separation.
Then God lists other consequences of this Fall into duality. Oftentimes this is interpreted as divine punishment, but it is better seen as a description of the natural consequences of choosing duality.
First God says there will be conflict between the serpent and the woman and her offspring, which is us. The serpent represents the animal kingdom, so this is describing our sense of alienation from our fellow animals on this planet, even to the point of causing their extinction. Instead of caring for them, as humans were instructed to do, we exploit them and kill them.
Second is physical suffering, specifically mentioned is the pain of childbirth. This is referring to the development of our large human heads, which is what makes childbirth so painful for humans. I mentioned last time that this story of the Fall is actually about the development of human consciousness from animal consciousness. That unique human consciousness is a result of the evolution of our larger brains, which needed a larger head, which in turn made childbirth much more painful. That pain is exasperated by the emotional suffering that amplifies physical pain.
Next is listed painful labor of all humans, not just women in childbirth. God says,
“cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
This is describing the development of agriculture. When early humans were hunter-gatherers, we were not much different than our animal cousins. But when we developed agriculture and animal husbandry, everything changed. We had to work to stay alive. That is what this is referring to. This beginning of human culture led to cities, which are mentioned in the next chapter. This in turn was the beginning of the end of our harmonious relationship with our natural environment. It led in time to the industrial revolution, the use of fossil fuels, the destruction of the earth’s environment, the extinction of many animal species, and now climate change, which may bring about an apocalyptic destruction of the human race.
Recently former Vice President Al Gore spoke to interfaith leaders and environmental activists about what he called the “twin crises of climate and racial justice.” Speaking to about 100 representatives of Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Native American traditions, Gore talked about climate change. He said, “Nineteen of the 20 hottest years ever measured with instruments have been since 2002 and every day watching the international television news feels like a nature hike right through the Book of Revelation.” I agree. We are experiencing the apocalypse. This suffering is a consequence of our dualistic way of thinking and living and relating to the environment.
This story in the Bible ends with the banishment of humans from Eden. The Garden of Eden represents Nondual awareness, and the Banishment is dualistic awareness. Humans are living in the land of duality east of Eden. Humans are banished from Eden, but as I said last time, God has left the door to the garden open.
When I was on sabbatical in Israel one of the lecturers I heard was a president of the World Council of Churches. She gave a lecture on artistic renderings of the Garden of Eden throughout history, with lots of pictures. The Garden of Eden is pictured in the Bible as a traditional Middle Eastern garden of a king. It is pictured as a walled garden, with a gate. The gate to the Garden of Eden remains open, but guarded.
“Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the humans have become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest they reach out their hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” therefore the Lord God sent them out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which they was taken. He drove out the humans, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”
The Eastern Gate to the Garden of Eden was guarded by cherubim with a flaming sword protecting the tree of life. East was the direction the Jerusalem temple faced. It was through the Eastern Gate that Jesus entered the temple on Palm Sunday. East was the direction the Holy of Holies faced, the veil to which was torn open when Jesus died. Jesus has opened the gate to nonduality to anyone willing to pay the price to enter, as he did.
This mention of cherubim-guarded gate is often is interpreted as a prohibition. I interpret it as an invitation, but a costly one. This is the strait gate and the narrow way that Jesus spoke about, which is the way to Eternal Life. It is the eye of the needle. It is what he called the Way of the Cross. To reach the tree of Life, all you have to do is die. I am not talking about physically dying and going to heaven. I am talking about dying to self. Dying to our separate existence. Dying to duality.
This ego death of the separate self is symbolized by the Cross of Christ, which is symbolic of the Tree of Life. This Life is also symbolized in the empty tomb, which represents emergence from the womb and new birth to nondual awareness, which is the resurrected life. We are invited to live as one with God and All.