Thou Art That – Garden of Eden

I posted this on a message board.  I think it's pretty scattered, but it's got some good stuff from Joseph Campbell in it, so I figured I'd post it. 🙂

*****

While I was in Vegas this weekend I read a book (yes I know, I'm a
dork) by Joseph Campbell, who is pretty much the foremost authority on
mythology and its relationship to religion and meaning. Listening to
him talk is like listening to the old wise man who knows stories for
just about everything, and can pull in themes from any tradition and
make them relevant to you.

There
was one part of the book that I thought would make for some good
discussion here. He explains the significance of the two trees in the
Garden of Eden and what it could mean. To do this, he also brings in
the Buddhist myth of the gates that lead to Nirvana. Some might object
to that saying you have to work only within one tradition, but I think
considering all religions as a piece of the puzzle can lead us to a
much much better understanding.

Anyway, here we go:

"What
is that tree of immortal life? Even after examining it in depth the
rabbinical discussions of the two trees in the Garden, it remains
something of an enigma.

"Look closely and you may see, as I do,
that they are the same tree. You are in the Garden and the tree is the
way out. The way out is through learning of good and evil, a process
that is symbolically expressed by eating the fruit of that tree. It is
as if you are walking from a room where all is one into a room where,
as you pass the threshold, all is suddenly two.

"Look back at
the gate of the Garden where stand the two cherubim with the flaming
sword between them, and you are out, in exile from the place where all
was one.

"What is the way back? The idea appears to be that God
is keeping us out of the Garden, forbidding our reentry. In the
Buddhist tradition, however, the Buddha says, 'Don't be afraid, come
right through.'

"But what does that mean?

"Of the
two guardians in the Buddhist theme, one has his mouth open, and the
other has his mouth closed: they are opposites. One represents fear,
the other represents desire.

"The fear is that of death and the
desire is for more of this world: fear and desire are what keep you out
of the Garden. It is not God who keeps us in exile, but ourselves."

He
goes on to say that people are converting to the Eastern religions all
the time these days because it's obvious that the meaning and relevance
to their daily lives is right there. Christianity….not so much. But
that doesn't mean we don't have that meaning…it's just hidden
underneath so much literalism and historicism.

"This
is what the story of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden is all
about. It is not about an historical incident but about a
psychological, spiritual experience, a metaphor for what is happening
to us right now."

We make
an unconscious decision to leave transcendence when we are very very
young. And it's in our nature. We live in a world in which
transcendence doesn't really matter if our goal is survival. Especially
in the modern world, where transcendence has been all but sapped out of
everything in our daily lives. And yet the way in is the same as the
way out, only reflected as in a mirror. We have to see that the world
is more than just opposites, but we're held back by our fears and our
desires. It's our very feeling of separateness that keeps us separated.

We distinguish between heaven and earth, good
and evil, right and wrong, up and down, pretty and ugly, mind and body
etc. The whole world is made up of pairs of opposites for us. That is
the world we live in where all is suddenly two. To get back to the
Garden, we have to realize that all is also one. That the opposites are
really the same thing. That is why God is often described in paradox.
God is this and God is not this. God is both, for he transcends our
pairs of opposites, and for him all is one. There is no other physical
place where we will go to be in the Kingdom of God. That's thinking in
opposites again. It's something that's already here, and yet is on its
way. Heaven and Earth are one.

"The
Kingdom will not come by expectation. The Kingdom of the Father is
spread upon the earth, and men do not see it." – Gospel of Thomas

and

"With
the moon walk, the religious myth that sustained these notions could no
longer be held. With our view of earth rise, we could see that the
earth and the heavens were no longer divided but that the earth is in
the heavens. There is no division and all the theological notions based
on the distinction between the heavens and the earth collapse with that
realization. There is a unity in the universe and a unity in our own
experience. We can no longer look for a spiritual order outside of our
own experience."

We have to
find things that open us up to transcendence and let us see the world
beyond the pairs of opposites. If our symbols are failing us, we must
find new ones…or breathe new life into the old ones. If our religious
laws aren't serving us and helping us to reach towards God, we can't
cling to them. For the Law was made for man, not man for the Law.

And
we've got so much. The world is literally littered with shattered
symbols. Ideas and myths that once structured society lie in ruins all
around us…including parts of our own traditions. If we search and
pick up the pieces and put them together, perhaps we can regain that
sense of transcendence that is all too rare in our day in age.

I wonder if that whole thing didn't make any sense. I wish I was better at explaining things in more common language. wink.gif

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    • a
    • October 4th, 2007

    I think you explained it well! I love Joseph Campbell.

  1. Me too. Reading that led me to the conclusion that I must read more! 😉

  2. What I think you (and Campbell) are saying is that humanity needs a new religious / spiritual foundation and synthesis. All the old traditions have something of value yet neither one by themselves and in total is internally consistent or spiritually invigorating. I agree with that.

  3. Mainly that, especially with the Judeo-Christian religions, we've screwed them up beyond all recognition. The symbols aren't working for us because we took the meaning out of them to the point that now they are actually a detriment to spiritual experience. But by looking at them all in the context of all the religions, it is easier to get past all of the obstacles we've set up for ourselves and get at what is really important in religion and spirituality.

    • a
    • October 5th, 2007

    I think that is an excellent point.Joseph Campbell's DVD series Mythos is what socked me in the stomach as far as my complacency with Christianity and especially monotheism. I had been told for years that my view was panentheistic and not monotheistic, but I had never bothered to look in to how they differed until Campbell socked me in the stomach. He said that monotheism was the single most destructive mythological concept in the history of man. When you start digging in to where monotheism comes from, you realize it didn't occur until very late in Judaism (500 BCE) – it was a last ditch effort to try and hold the Jews together after their exile in Babylon. And if you get right down to it, Christianity has never been truly monotheistic. The problem with monotheism is that it warps the myths into making belief in "the One True God" all important which gives license to people to perform horrific acts "in the name of God" while much of the spiritual guidance within Judaism and Christianity (and I suppose Islam although I know much less about it) that is in common with all world religions gets pushed to the sidelines and is deemed non-important in comparison. It's definitely there. But it's been downplayed for thousands of years.

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