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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bible Examples of Zen- Good & Evil/Original Sin? (Genesis 3)

I am not very good at keeping up this blog, but a friend of mine emailed me tonight about my last post and it kind of gave me a kick in the seat of the pants about putting this next entry out here since I've been thinking about it for a few months now.

The Knowledge of Good & Evil

Sounds pretty safe, huh?

Sounds like it might simplify a lot of things in life; like it might give a clearer cut definition of the way things should or should not be.

Many of us know the story of the Fall of Man where Adam and Eve are in the Garden of Eden and God tells them "of all the trees that are in the garden you can freely eat; save for the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." Many of us also usually just hone in on the part where even though God said not to eat.....they did it anyways.....and then assume that is the point of the story that initiates man's separation from God.

My take on this story is going to be from a naturalist perspective in that I don't believe that there were ever any talking snakes that tempted anyone. I am also firmly convinced that the majority of early Jewish and Christian [Gnostic & Mystic] readers of the story agreed. The "snake" [who actually starts out as being referred to as the "beast"] is just there for interpretive purposes.

So which is the bigger deal; that mankind ate from the tree? Or the kind of tree from which they ate? I think that God answers the question in the story.

Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—" therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. [Genesis 3: 22,23 emphasis mine]

To know good and evil, according to God here, was to become like God....which has long since been forbidden. And now, since their eyes had been opened to the negative enlightenment, God didn't want them to stay in that state forever by then also eating from the Tree of Life so he kicked them out of the garden before they had a chance to put their hand to it.

There is a story in the Gospels where the rich young ruler approaches Jesus and asks him "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" To which Jesus replies and asks "Why do you call me good?" Most would say that Jesus is just being modest, but I believe that it was a challenge to one's own notion of Good and Evil.

The point is that the fruit that brings the knowledge of Good and of Evil is the fruit that leads to the road of death....or in terms of Zen or enlightenment it is our own identification or labeling of things according to our certain perceptions of good and evil that do us the most harm in experiencing the bliss that comes from sometimes either just not knowing or just not worrying about it.

Taoism offers the notion of P'u: [from Wikipedia]

P'u (simplified Chinese: ; traditional Chinese: ; pinyin: pǔ, pú; Wade-Giles: p'u; lit. "uncut
wood") is translated "uncarved block", "unhewn log", or "simplicity". It is a
metaphor for the state of wu wei (meaning: without action) and the principle of
jian ().[29]
It represents a passive state of receptiveness. P'u is a symbol for a state of
pure potential and perception without prejudice. In this state, Taoists believe
everything is seen as it is, without preconceptions or illusion.[30]

P'u is usually seen as keeping oneself in the primordial state of
It is believed to be the true nature of the mind, unburdened by knowledge or
In the state of p'u, there is no right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. There is
only pure experience, or awareness, free from learned
labels and definitions. It is this state of being that is the goal of following
wu wei.

This can be seen in not only Taoism but also Buddhism and Jainism.

This does not extend itself to say that society as a whole should throw out this notion, as the society would crumble. Life would be less significant if murderers walked the streets without being stopped. The economy would collapse at the action of continuous thievery. Law must still be law, by principle, to keep the peace.....but on a personal level it is imperative for simplicity to drop the self-held dogma of the nutrients from the forbidden fruit.

The results of this cursed tree?

Emnity between the offspring of the woman and the serpent: a constant competition between differing minds which are both striving for superiority.

Pain in childbearing: the struggle in producing offspring that will hold our exact morals and ideals that possibly hold us captive

The husband shall rule over the wife: whenever desire overcomes a partnership, the partner will win out because the desire makes one weak. Buddhists call this "attachment."

Work turns into punishment: because judgements and values are placed on activities, seldom will one find himself "happy" in whatever they are doing....unable to recognize that in order for our world and societies to continue in motion, all vocations are necessary and play vital roles. Without these judgements and values work could become play.

God kicked them out of the garden so that they wouldn't eat from the Tree of Life and stay stuck forever in their state of misery. I see that as an act of mercy. The tree of life is only for those who experience an enlightenment.....

That enlightenment is often as simple as seeing that knowing good from evil doesn't keep one from doing evil or being just stops things from being what they are in the natural process of things.

A practical example of this comes from the classic tale of the Taoist farmer that goes a little bit like this:

A farmer had a horse that ran away. When the neighbor caught wind of it he
came around and said to the farmer "what a terrible thing to have happen!"

The farmer replied by just saying "maybe."

About a week later the horse returned home and brought another one with it
that it had found out on its journey. When the neighbor heard about it he came
back around to congratulate the farmer. "Wow, not only has your horse returned
but you now have TWO horses. What great fortune you have!"

The farmer replied by just saying "maybe."

One day the farmer's son was tending to the horses. While he was brushing
the new one it kicked him and in his fall he broke his leg. When the neighbor
heard about this he came around and said "oh, how awful that your new horse has
broken your son's leg!"

The farmer replied by just saying "maybe."

The next day the area's military recruiters had come around to the farmer's
house. When the farmer said that he had a son they immediately wanted to sign
him up for service. When the son came out and they saw his broken leg in a
splint they immediately turned him away as a useless cripple. A week later all
of the other boys that had been enlisted from the town were all killed in
service when they became the victims of a surprise attack by the enemy.

When the neighbor heard about this he again praised the farmer's good
fortune by saying "you are indeed blessed that your son was not also killed in
the war."

The farmer again just simply replied by saying "maybe."

The horse running away seemed to be a bad thing....but it brought back another.

Now having TWO horses seemed to be a good thing.....but then the new horse hurt the farmers son.

The farmer's son's injury seemed to be a bad thing....but it ended up saving his life.

Since it is impossible to predict such outcomes it is also then silly to try and make judgement calls about the things and events in life.

Admittedly though, this enlightenment can also only be experienced and not explained.


Blogger glen said...

Great post. I think it's useful to bring in religious philosophies from completely unrelated faiths to elucidate unclear points in a story widely considered familiar in one religion. After all, each religion is essentially trying to do the same thing in different ways: explain the origins of man, the universe and why we must suffer.

Not surprisingly, there are similar stories of sacrifice for knowledge in many disparate religions. In Norse Paganism, Odin sacrifices an eye at the spring of Mimir to drink from the waters and gain much wisdom. In Chinese mythology we come back to forbidden fruit. In the novel "Journey to the West" the Monkey King character breaks into heaven (the dwelling place of the immortals) and steals the peaches of immortality among other elixirs and potions. Although "Journey to the West" was written in the 1590's it undoubtedly includes folklore from much earlier oral traditions. The same goes for the story of Odin, which as put to text in the 1300s.

Speaking from my own experience, I bear the crushing weight of student loan debt from grad school and fading eyesight at age 30 so I know that knowledge carries a hefty price!

Last thing: in earlier versions of the Bible, the forbidden fruit wasn't identified. Latin translators of the Bible used the word malus "apple" because it is very close to the word for evil-malum and because of the role of the apple in familiar Greek mythologies. Weird, huh?

March 26, 2010 at 10:33 AM  

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