Today, I had a nice conversation with a good friend of mine, who happens to be a fairly conservative 'born again' Christian. He is a good man, kind, intelligent and loves to talk philosophy and religion with me at lunch some days. Today, the topic was literalism, to which his view point was the Christian bible needs to taken literal if the true word of God is to be known. I argued that many of the biblical stories, much like many Buddhist stories are metaphors for deeper meanings and messages. Metaphors, sometimes, are an easier way to convey a point rather than speaking in a direct manner.
We got into the the discussion of the story of Adam and Eve in the book of Genesis. While he held a very literal view of original sin and man's betrayal of God, I retorted it was a metaphorical story about man's transition or evolution of mind and thought, to see the world in a dualistic nature, driven by desire and aversion. Being a very devout Christian, he had a Bible in his car which he went out and got it and we took a look through the passages.
Funny enough, as we went through it, I came to a startling thought that, in many ways, this is a great metaphor to describe the core teachings of Buddhism.
16: And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
This, I asserted, was the affirmation of the oneness of all things, the living in an accord and unity with nature or the universe. Maybe it could be understood as living in nirvana or utopia or what Christians call the Garden of Eden. The tree, obviously represents the pitfall of dualistic thought, seeing the world and its things as good or bad, right or wrong, like and dislike.
1: Now the serpent was more subtile than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2: And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
The serpent, I said, is the representation of mind or our thoughts, and through evolution, man's thoughts became more organized and more conceptual. These thoughts, represented by the serpent, begin to consider an object of our desire, the beginning of conceptualizing. The conversation between Eve and the serpent is a metaphor our internal monologue, the endless effort to reason or justify our actions to ourselves.
3: But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4: And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
6: And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
7: And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.
The fruit is desire, and to pursue desire or objects of what we want requires us to like and dislike things or "knowing good and evil." The danger is dualistic thought is the endless cycle of good and bad, or Karma and Samsara. To be as Gods is to see permanence in objects that have no real permanence. And "to die" represents Dukkha, the unsatisfactoriness or suffering in life because we mistake our ideas as reality and have attachment to that which is impermanent. I argued this is our human condition, this experiencing of loss and unfulfilled expectations, confusion and frustration, sorrow and misery.
13: And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
14: And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life:
Perhaps, I argued to him, our separation with God is really separation with the oneness of all things. We are separated by our formations of mind in pursuit of desire and aversion, forgetting the impermanence in all things, misinterpreting our beliefs for absolute certainty. We share our likes and dislikes, our opinions of good and bad with others, as Eve shared the fruit with Adam.
I said I've heard others making similar conclusions as this and he respectfully disagreed and we parted to go back to work. Sure, I realized I may have stretched the story of Adam and Eve to fit my views, but isn't that what our minds do?
Thoughts thrash and quiver,
For how can they shake off desire?
They tremble, they are unsteady,
They wander at their own will.
It is good to control them,
And to master them brings happiness.
But how subtle they are,
The task is to quieten them,
And by ruling them to find happiness.
The master quells his thoughts.
He ends their wandering.
Seated in the cave of the heart,
He finds freedom.
How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?
If a man is disturbed
He will never be filled with knowledge.
An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgements,
Watches and understands.
Know that the body is a fragile jar,
And make a castle of your mind.
In every trial
Let understanding fight for you
To defend what you have won.